Hospitalized children who have comorbid mental health conditions—such as anxiety, ADHD, and depression—may have longer stays than children without such conditions, according to a study published recently in Pediatrics.

“Most hospitalized children and their families are eager to go home as soon as they can—extra days in the hospital are missed days at school for kids, missed days at work for parents, and a disruption to family routines,” says lead author Stephanie Doupnik, MD, a researcher in PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a media release from PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Unfortunately,” she adds, “we’re seeing that mental health conditions add a layer of complexity to hospital care that causes kids with mental health conditions to stay in the hospital longer and use additional resources.”

In the study, Doupnik and her team investigated 670,000 hospitalizations in the 2012 Kids’ Inpatient Database, and found that existing mental health conditions were present in one in seven medical and surgical hospitalizations of children aged 3 to 20. For nine types of surgical procedures—including appendectomy, knee procedures, and gall bladder removal—having one mental health condition increased 61% of children’s hospital stays by 1 day. In this same population, having two or more mental health conditions added 1 day to every child’s stay.

For nine types of medical hospitalizations—such as chemotherapy, headache, and diabetes—having one mental health condition added an extra day in the hospital for 28% of children. Furthermore, having two more mental health conditions added a day to 50% of these children’s hospital stays.

These increases totaled nearly 32,000 additional hospital days nationwide in 2012, costing an additional $90 million, the release notes.

Adolescents had more than twice as many additional hospital days associated with an existing mental health condition compared to 3- to 12-year-old children. Additionally, children hospitalized for medical reasons commonly had depression and anxiety disorders, and children hospitalized for surgical procedures commonly experienced substance abuse and anxiety disorders, which lengthened their stays.

The authors suggest these longer stays may be due a lower ability to cope with pain and other symptoms of acute illness, lower adherence to treatment plans, and a lack of care coordination outside of the hospital.

“My patients often tell me how difficult it is to get mental health care outside of the hospital, and they are grateful when clinicians can provide mental health care services in the hospital or help them get treatment after they go home,” Doupnik shares in the release. “In order to ensure mental health conditions aren’t adding unnecessary days to children’s hospital stays that also use additional hospital resources, we need systems of care that provide efficient and convenient access to mental health clinicians for children who need mental health treatments.”

[Source(s): PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, PR Newswire]