Background: Childhood poisonings continue to exact a notable toll in injury-related morbidity and economic cost. Because a substantial portion of this morbidity and economic cost is associated with hospitalization, an analysis of the cost of poisoning hospitalizations might help to identify areas in which medical care could be improved and costs could be reduced.
Objective: To assess the aggregate cost of poison-related hospitalizations and to analyze the trends in categorical poisoning costs during a 4-year period.
Design: Cost-benefit analysis of charge data and length of stay (LOS) for poison-related hospitalizations.
Setting: Admissions to one urban children's hospital.
Patients: Case mix data were reviewed to identify those children whose hospitalizations had a primary discharge diagnosis related to poisoning in fiscal years 1992 to 1995.
Main outcome measures: Mean aggregate hospital charges and LOS for poisonings were compared for each of the 4 years of the study. Comparisons were also made with charges and LOS for hospitalizations for all other diagnoses during the same period. Trends in hospital charges and LOS for the most common specific types of poisoning were analyzed individually. Linear regression statistics were used to compare the costs and LOS of specific types of poisoning.
Results: There were 638 poison-related hospitalizations during the 4-year study (0.9% of all pediatric hospital admissions). Charges per case decreased from $7934 in fiscal year 1992 to $4968 in fiscal year 1995 (z = -2.74, P = .006); mean LOS decreased from 5.85 days in 1992 to 3.45 days in 1995 (z = 2.84, P = .005). These trends exceeded smaller trends toward decreasing charges and LOS seen also for non-poison-related hospitalizations. Acetaminophen, lead, and antidepressant medications were the most common and most costly specific agents implicated in poison-related hospitalizations during the study period. Linear regression analysis showed a significant decrease in charges (F = 6.35, R2 = 0.09, P = .014) and LOS for acetaminophen (F = 4.30, R2 = 0.063, P < .04) but not for lead or antidepressant poison-related hospitalizations.
Conclusions: Despite an increasing number of children hospitalized for poisoning at one institution during a 4-year period, per case hospital charges decreased substantially. The cost savings were associated with a marked decrease in LOS. Still, poison-related admissions to a single pediatric facility accounted for almost $1 million in hospital charges in fiscal year 1995. A few agents are overrepresented; new poisoning prevention measures aimed at these toxic agents are warranted. We conclude that further outcomes studies are needed to delineate cost-effective improvements in patient care targeted toward poisonings owing to those agents.