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Effects of behavioural risk factors on high-cost users of healthcare: a population-based study


Objectives — High-cost users (HCUs) are known to disproportionally incur the majority of healthcare utilization costs relative to their counterparts. A number of studies have highlighted the detrimental effects of risky health behaviours; however, only a few have demonstrated the link to HCUs, a meaningful endpoint for program and policy decision-makers. We investigated the association between health behaviour risks and downstream high-cost healthcare utilization.

Methods — A combined cohort of participants from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) cycles 2005-2009 was linked to future population-based health administrative data in Ontario. Using person-centered costing methodology, CCHS respondents were ranked according to healthcare utilization costs and categorized as ever having HCU status in the 4 years following interview. Logistic regression models were used to estimate the association between various health behaviours on future HCU status.

Results — Models estimated that smoking and physical inactivity were associated with a significant increase in the odds of becoming an HCU. Compared to individual behaviours, increasing the number of health behaviour risks significantly strengthened the odds of becoming an HCU in subsequent years.

Conclusion — The analyses provide evidence that upstream health behaviours affect high-cost healthcare utilization. Health behaviours are a meaningful target for health promotion programs and policies. These findings can inform decision-makers on appropriate behavioural targets for those on an HCU trajectory and promote public health efforts to support healthcare system sustainability.



Alberga A, Holder L, Kornas K, Bornbaum C, Rosella L. Can J Public Health. 2018; 109(4):441-50. Epub 2018 Sep 19.

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