The hospital costs associated with acute paediatric burn injuries
Background. Ongoing rationing of healthcare threatens services that are well established, and cripples others that desperately require investment. Burn, for one, remains a neglected epidemic in South Africa (SA), despite the magnitude of the problem.
Objective. To identify the prominent components contributing to the cost of hospital admission with paediatric burn injury. Determining the true costs of specialist services is important, so that resources can be allocated appropriately to achieve the greatest possible impact.
Methods. A retrospective study was undertaken over 1 year to determine patient demographics and injury details of 987 patients admitted with burn injuries to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, SA. The in-hospital financial records of 80 randomly selected patients were examined. This was followed by a prospective study to determine the financial implications of four cost drivers, i.e. bed cost per day, costs of medications received, costs of dressings for wound care, and costs of surgical intervention. A random selection of 37 dressing changes (in 31 paediatric patients) and 19 surgical interventions was observed, during which all costs were recorded.
Results. As expected, severe flame burns are responsible for more prolonged hospital stays and usually require surgical intervention. Scald burns comprise the greatest proportion of burn injuries, and therefore account for a considerable part of the hospital’s expenditure towards burn care.
Conclusion. While community programmes aiming to prevent burn injuries are important, this study motivates for the implementation of accessible ambulatory services in low-income areas. This strategy would enable the burn unit to reduce its costs by limiting unnecessary admissions, and prioritising its resources for those with more severe burn injuries.
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