Childbirth-Related Hospital Burden by Socioeconomic Status in a Universal Health Care Setting


Introduction: Hospital utilization varies across socioeconomic and demographic strata in Canada, a country with a universal health care system. Rates of adverse birth outcomes are known to differ among women of high and low socioeconomic status (SES), but less is known of the excess hospital burden related to SES over the course of childbirth across Canadian provinces. Objective: To examine length of stay and risk of hospitalization surrounding delivery, relative to women’s socio-demographic characteristics. Methods: A population-based record linkage between the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) years 2005-2011 and the Discharge Abstract Database (DAD) allowed the tracking of hospital utilization for linked survey respondents between 2005 and 2011. Hourly length of stay for delivery, risk of readmission, and risk of admission prior to delivery was modeled by socio-demographic factors, controlling for other clinical and individual-level characteristics. Results: There were 21,914 complete delivery records from 15,458 female CCHS respondents who agreed to link and share their information. Average length of stay (for both vaginal and Caesarian deliveries) dropped over the study period from 67.86 hours in 2005 to 59.37 hours in 2011. In multivariate analyses, women with the lowest income had on average, two-hour longer stays for vaginal delivery as compared to high-income women (IRR 1.04, 95% CI 1.00-1.08) and higher risk of admission prior to delivery (OR 1.43, CI 1.13-1.81). Low-income women, Aboriginal women and women living in rural areas were also at elevated risk for longer hospital stays and for hospital admission prior to delivery. There was no consistent socioeconomic patterning of hospital burden for Caesarian deliveries. Conclusion: The length of hospital stays for childbirth has declined in Canada. Length of stay remains modestly longer, and risk of hospitalization in the perinatal period higher, for low income women, Aboriginal women and rural women. The absence of egregious income-related differences in hospital burden related to childbirth is reassuring for the equity goals of the Canadian health care system. The persistence of marginally longer, and in turn, costlier visits for low-income and Aboriginal women before and during delivery is, however, suggestive that resources targeted to the prenatal period might be highly cost-effective if they achieve population-wide reductions in length of stay and hospitalization in the perinatal period.

Int J Popul Data Sci
Sam Harper
Sam Harper
Associate Professor of Epidemiology

My research interests include impact evaluation, reproducible research, and social epidemiology.