Super fragmented: a nationally representative cross-sectional study exploring the fragmentation of inpatient care among super-utilizers

BMC Health Serv Res. 2021 Apr 14;21(1):338. doi: 10.1186/s12913-021-06323-5.


Background: Super-utilizers with 4 or more admissions per year frequently receive low-quality care and disproportionately contribute to healthcare costs. Inpatient care fragmentation (admission to multiple different hospitals) in this population has not been well described.

Objective: To determine the prevalence of super-utilizers who receive fragmented care across different hospitals and to describe associated risks, costs, and health outcomes.

Research design: We analyzed inpatient data from the Health Care Utilization Project's State Inpatient and Emergency Department database from 6 states from 2013. After identifying hospital super-utilizers, we stratified by the number of different hospitals visited in a 1-year period. We determined how patient demographics, costs, and outcomes varied by degree of fragmentation. We then examined how fragmentation would influence a hospital's ability to identify super-utilizers.

Subjects: Adult patients with 4 or more inpatient stays in 1 year.

Measures: Patient demographics, cost, 1-year hospital reported mortality, and probability that a single hospital could correctly identify a patient as a super-utilizer.

Results: Of the 167,515 hospital super-utilizers, 97,404 (58.1%) visited more than 1 hospital in a 1-year period. Fragmentation was more likely among younger, non-white, low-income, under-insured patients, in population-dense areas. Patients with fragmentation were more likely to be admitted for chronic disease management, psychiatric illness, and substance abuse. Inpatient fragmentation was associated with higher yearly costs and lower likelihood of being identified as a super-utilizer.

Conclusions: Inpatient care fragmentation is common among super-utilizers, disproportionately affects vulnerable populations. It is associated with high yearly costs and a decreased probability of correctly identifying super-utilizers.

Keywords: Fragmentation; Hospital super-utilizer; Socioeconomic health disparities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Health Care Costs
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients*