Objectives — The author highlights changes in hospital utilization that have occurred in association with restructuring of Ontario hospitals. The basic features of the epidemiology of hospital utilization described link the analysis of the organizational and structural components of hospitals with a more comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of their restructuring and have implications for international comparative studies.
Methods — Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Canadian census were analyzed to provide a population-based description of hospital utilization and care. These hospital data provided information on changes in the patterns of care that occurred during restructuring, based on hospital separations for the fiscal years 1991-1992 through 1995-1996.
Results — Analysis of hospital utilization patterns revealed a 30% decrease in the days of care provided per 1,000 population during the period, the result of declines in both the age-adjusted inpatient separation rates and average length of hospital stay. The shift of surgical treatment to outpatient settings contributed to the reduction in inpatient days of care. The decline in utilization was experienced unevenly across age groups, with the elderly experiencing less of the decline than did younger age groups. Individuals living in the poorest areas used more inpatient care than did those living in the richest areas, although the gap in utilization narrowed over the period.
Conclusions — International comparisons of the epidemiology of hospital utilization and the impact of hospital restructuring will require the use of multiple data sources and the development of shared evaluative frameworks. Health data systems in Canada support the assessment of the broader impacts of hospital restructuring and offer a framework for developing research projects that can provide useful information on these important changes in health-care policy.