Publication Details

Whyatt, D., Tenneti, R., Marsh, J., Bolt, S. E., Kemp, A., Firth, L., Murray, K., Turlach, B. & Vickery, A. (2014). The ratchet effect: dramatic and sustained changes in health care utilization following admission to hospital with chronic disease. Medical Care, 52 (10), 901-908.


Objective: To describe the previously unexamined association between admissions to hospital with chronic disease and changes in all-cause health service utilization over time. Research Design: A cohort study examining the population of Western Australia with hospitalizations for chronic disease from 2002 to 2010. A "rolling" clearance period is used to define "cardinal events," that is, a disease-specific diagnosis upon hospital admission, where such an event has not occurred in the previous 2 years. Changes in the rate of cardinal events associated with diagnoses of heart failure, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cataract with diabetes, asthma, and dialysis are examined. Health service utilization (defined as inpatient days or emergency department presentations) 6 years preceding and 4 years following such events is presented. Results: Cardinal events make up 40%-60% of all chronic disease admissions. A previously undescribed ratchet effect following cardinal events specifically associated with type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is observed. This involves a 2- to 3-fold increase in inpatient days and emergency department presentations that are sustained for at least 4 years. Conclusions: Cardinal events represent an important reference point to understand the impact of chronic disease on health service utilization. Events that herald such a marked transition in health service demand have not been previously described.



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