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Understanding the scope of preventable acute care spending among patients with eating disorders


Objective — The economic burden of eating disorders is substantial. One potential way to reduce costs, without sacrificing care, may be to target preventable (i.e., potentially unnecessary) acute care. This study sought to determine the amount and proportion of preventable and non-preventable acute care spending among individuals with eating disorders.

Method — We undertook a population-based, cross-sectional study of all individuals over the age of 17 with eating disorders (diagnosed through hospitalization) in Ontario, Canada, to determine potentially preventable and non-preventable acute care spending. Preventable acute care (i.e., preventable emergency department visits and hospitalizations) was defined using previously validated algorithms. We undertook analyses for the full sample, by sex and by eating disorder diagnosis (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, eating disorder not otherwise specified, multiple).

Results — Among 7547 individuals with eating disorders, 15% of all acute care spending (i.e., $1.33 million) was considered preventable; this figure was higher for females (14%) and those with bulimia nervosa (21%). Among emergency department visits, 25% of visits were considered preventable; the largest proportions were for non-emergent (11%) and primary care treatable (10%) conditions. Among hospitalizations, 9% were considered preventable; the highest proportions of preventable care spending were for short-term diabetes complications (1.8%) and urinary tract infections (1.8%).

Discussion — Although the economic burden of eating disorders is substantial, there is some scope to decrease acute care spending among this patient population. Care coordination and improved access to primary care and disease prevention, particularly related to diabetes, may help prevent the occurrence of some acute care episodes.

Public Significance — Many jurisdictions have implemented strategies to reduce costs and improve the quality of care among patients with high healthcare needs, such as those with eating disorders; however, it is unclear whether any costs can be reduced and, if so, which costs. Cost-savings resulting from the reduction of unnecessary care could provide further economic justification for increased investment in outpatient care for individuals with eating disorders.



de Oliveira C, Tanner B, Colton P, Kurdyak P. Int J Eat Disord. 2023; 56(6):1156-87. Epub 2023 Feb 9.

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