Aim: To compare the rehabilitation of patients with brain and spinal cord injury in specialist rehabilitation units and non-specialist rehabilitation units in Australia over a 10-year period.
Method: A retrospective cohort study design was used. Epidemiological descriptive analysis was used to examine inpatient rehabilitation data held in the Australasian Rehabilitation Outcomes Centre Registry Database at four discrete time points: 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016. Data sets included patient demographics, length of stay and the Functional Independence Measure. Data sets were examined for differences between specialist and non-specialist rehabilitation units.
Results: Over the 10-year study period, compared to patients admitted to non-specialist rehabilitation units patients admitted to specialist rehabilitation units: (1) were younger and more likely to be male; (2) had a longer time between onset of illness/injury and rehabilitation admission; (3) had a longer median rehabilitation length of stay; (4) had a higher burden of care on admission to rehabilitation; however (5) had a greater functional gain. Patients in specialist rehabilitation units had a lower relative functional efficiency per day of rehabilitation, but higher percentage of Functional Independence Measure gain. In 2016, 66% of brain injury and 51% of spinal cord injury patients were not rehabilitated in specialist rehabilitation units.
Conclusion: There are differences in the characteristics of patients admitted to specialist versus non-specialist rehabilitation units. Patients admitted to specialist rehabilitation units have greater functional gain. A noteworthy proportion of brain and spinal cord injury patients are not being rehabilitated in specialist rehabilitation units, particularly patients with non-traumatic injuries.