Objective: To explore through a pilot study the relationship between appropriateness (medical necessity) and variations in pediatric hospital admission rates across several communities in the Boston (Mass) area for two common pediatric conditions with extremely variable admission rates: pneumonia and bronchitis/asthma.
Design: We identified five communities in the greater Boston area with high, average, and below-average ratios of observed to expected admissions for the study conditions. Diagnosis-specific, criteria-based utilization review instruments were developed by community-based pediatricians and applied by trained nurse reviewers to medical records. ADMISSIONS STUDIED: All admissions for pneumonia (diagnosis related group [DRG] 91) and bronchitis/asthma (DRG 98) of study area residents younger than 18 years to participating hospitals during fiscal year 1986.
Outcome measures: For each area, we calculated age-adjusted admission rates, age-adjusted observed to expected ratios, and rates of inappropriate admissions. We tested the hypothesis that admission rates and inappropriateness rates were directly related.
Results: We deemed 9.4% of pneumonia admissions and 4.4% of bronchitis/asthma admissions inappropriate. Rates of inappropriate admissions were not significantly associated with admission rates in this local pilot study for either study condition at P < .05. However, in one community both rates were high for both conditions. Feedback of findings to the key local hospital there resulted in sharp decreases in admission rates for DRGs 91 and 98 in subsequent years.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that higher pediatric admission rates may not be associated with higher rates of inappropriateness. Further research is needed, with a larger number of communities, to differentiate practice patterns more precisely and explore patient and family preferences.