Comparison of hospital admissions in two rural Greek public hospitals.
The establishment of the Greek National Health System (NHS) in 1983 was based upon the exclusively public health care provision (Tountas, Karnaki, & Pavi, 2002). The role of public hospitals, both urban and rural was upgraded. Many new hospital units, especially in rural and remote areas of Greece were built up. The total health care expenditures (THE) increased significantly (OECD, 2006).
In spite of the legislative actions for private health care services restriction, nowadays, private health care expenditures are almost half of the total health expenditures (Tountas et al., 2005; OECD, 2006). Nevertheless, in rural areas the spread of private health care services was to a lower extent compared to that in urban areas of the country (Souliotis, 2002). The general regional hospitals that exist, one for each city, still keep a master role in the provision of secondary health care services in the Greek population. Characteristically, hospital admissions in public hospitals for general medicine accounted for 1.5 million admissions, in 2000 (ESYE, 2005).
The value of equal access for all citizens in the Greek territory was one of the main issues raised with the law 1397/1983 (Liaropoulos & Tragakes, 1998). The issue of economic efficiency was degraded until recently. From the relevant literature becomes clear that 'Failure to account for uncertainty will lead to biased results, suggesting that hospitals are inefficient (Smet, 1998, p. 15). Hence, the way that the number of admissions varies within a certain period of time is very important for hospital managers (Abdel-Aal & Mangoud, 1998; Diaz et al., 2001; Jones et al., 2002; Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002; Hussain et al., 2005; Upshur, 2005; Earnest, Chen, & Seow, 2006). An accurate forecasting of future daily admissions can provide to hospital managers useful information in relation to staff and beds needs. For example, it is absolute natural for a hospital manager to wait fewer patients for hospitalization during the summer moths, especially in a region that is not a touristic destination or vice versa (Bentley et al., 2001), and to anticipate more patients during winter months due to influenza and other respiratory related diseases (Fleming, Harcourt, & Smith, 2003).
The purpose of this paper is to compare the number of total admissions in two regional hospitals in Greece during the period 2001-2005. I have used a multivariate model with three explanatory variables to better understand the variations in the number of total daily hospital admissions. These are the weekend, the official holiday and the summer holiday effects. I have found that about half of the variations of total admissions can be explained by the variations in the three explanatory variables.
Daily data on total hospital admissions were collected from two regional public hospitals. The one is located in Trikala city, in central Greece, and the second one is placed in Sparta city, in south part of Peloponnesus and in the lower part of continental Greece. The time period covers five years, from 1/1/2001 to 31/12/2005. Both hospitals are the only providers for secondary health care, and due to lack of a well established and organized primary health care network, they also provide primary health care through their outpatient departments (Tountas, Karnaki, & Pavi, 2002). Primary health care is also provided to the rural population through health stations, established in the whole Greek region after the 19831984 health reform (WHO, 1996).
Based on the data of the last census, took place in 2001, the number of permanent population in the prefecture of Trikala is amounted to 132.689 people, and in the prefecture of Laconia, including the city of Sparta 92,811 people (1).
In 2001, the number of total hospital admissions in Trikala reached about 20 thousands admissions, while the same time period, the number of total admissions in the Sparta's public hospital was almost half of that in Trikala, slightly more than 9 thousands admissions. Total admissions as a percentage of the total population accounted for 15% in the city of Trikala, and 10% in the city of Sparta, in 2001 (Figure 1).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
A multivariate model with three explanatory variables was developed. Three hypotheses were tested. During weekends the number of total hospital admissions draws down. In months July and August total hospital admissions remain unchangeable for touristic areas and decline for non touristic destinations. In time periods close to official holidays the number of total admissions decreases.
For the first hypothesis, I use a dummy variable that takes the value of one (1) when the day is either Saturday or Sunday, and the value of zero (0) when it is not. Similarly, a dummy variable for the summer months is used. It gets the value of one (1) when the month is either July or August and the value of zero (0) when it is not. Last, for the third hypothesis, we have counted 15 official holidays that are celebrated by the whole public servants, including hospital staff. These days include both religious festivities and national days. A dummy variable is also used to estimate the impact of that variable on total hospital admissions. It obtains the value of one (1) when the day is one of the 15 official holidays and the value of zero (0) when it is not.
I applied the Ordinary Least Square (OLS) method to test the above three hypotheses. The E-views econometric package, version 5.1, was used for the analyses.
The weekend effect has been extensively used as an explanatory variable in the forecasting of hospital admissions (Fullerton & Crawford, 1999; Baker et al., 2004; Earnest, Chen, & Seow, 2006; Jones et al., 2009). It has been found that patient flows are lower during the weekends than the rest of the week. Patients in accordance with their doctors decide to be admitted at the beginning of the week and to have their procedures hereafter. Mossialos et al. (2005a; 2005b) have approved for Greece that in obstetrical services there is great demand for leisure by physicians. In that way patients have the opportunity to be discharged before the weekend, if their clinical conditions permit it. Delays that prolong hospitalization due to weekend effect increase the time that patients are exposed to hazards known to occur in hospitals such as medication errors and infection (Law 2519, 1997). Consequently, during weekends the number of total admissions is expected to be lower.
The seasonality in hospital admissions is an important issue (Hisnanick, 1994; AbdelAal & Mangoud, 1998; Fullerton & Crawford, 1999; Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002; Cote, 2005; Hussain et al., 2005; Jones et al., 2009; Lee et al., 2005; Matter-Walstra, Widmer, & Busato, 2006). Hospitals face considerable problems either in summer months (i.e. Spain, Portugal, and Greece) or during the winter (i.e. the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and Finland). The high temperatures during the summer in Mediterranean countries deteriorates the healthiness of specific group of the population, such as the children, the elderly, and those suffer from respiratory and co-related illnesses (Schwartz, 1996; Schwarts, Samet, & Patz, 2004; Linares & Diaz, 2008). Contrary, in Nordic countries the problem of bed availability is more intense during the winter season, where respiratory infections, like influenza are frequently appeared among the population (Semenza et al., 1999). Another source of seasonality is tourism, i.e. Switzerland, where leisure sports, and especially ski/snowboard tourism creates great flexibility in hospital admissions due to orthopedic traumas (Cote, 2005). Similarly, during the summer months in countries with hot weather and high tourism, like Mediterranean countries and New Zealand, the development of sea sport activities and other leisure actions creates more demand for hospitalization (McGregor, Walters, & Wordley, 1999; Bentley et al., 2001). Conclusively, I expect a negative impact of summer holiday variable on total hospital admissions in the city of Trikala--a non touristic destination. For the city of Sparta in Laconia Prefecture, I expect no impact of the summer months variable on total admissions, due to the conservation of the total population of the city at the same level as it is during the winter months. During the summer months the undergraduates leave for vacations, while both the native and foreign tourists arrive for visiting the city of Sparta and around.
Official holiday days relate to statutory days off and it is expected to have a negative impact on total hospital admissions. During these days there is a supply and demand impact on hospital admissions. Patients do prefer to spend these days with their families (the demand effect) which it is also true for all hospital staff as well (the supply effect). The same hypothesis has been tested and verified by other researchers as well (Fullerton & Crawford, 1999; Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002; Lee et al., 2005).
The number of total admissions of the two regional hospitals over the five-year period is presented in Figure 2. The mean value for daily total admissions in the hospital of Trikala is 61 with a standard of 17.16 whilst for daily total admissions in the hospital of Sparta the mean is 27 with a standard deviation of 9.43.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
It is apparent that there is a seasonal variation for total admissions series in both regional cities. Figure 3 shows the mean number of daily total admissions per month. Both hospitals present lower number of total admissions in January, April and December, where the two greatest religious festivals--Christmas and Easter--are celebrated by the Greek Orthodox. However, as far as the summer months are concerned, the seasonal variations are more visible in Trikala, compared to those noticed in Sparta. This means that the population in the city of Sparta remains unchanged during the summer months. A possible explanation for this is that the Prefecture of Laconia, including the capital city of Sparta, is a famous touristic destination (2).
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
Weekly seasonal effects can also be observed (Figure 4). The number of total admissions in Trikala hospital is at its highest on Tuesday, while in Sparta hospital it is at its peak on Monday. For both city hospitals, daily total admissions decline considerably on weekends compared to the week days. The fact that in public hospitals in Trikala there is an increase of total admissions on Sunday could be explained by the common practice by doctors to admit their elective patients on Sunday in order to be ready for the pre-surgery examination control and their operation thereupon.
Table 1 shows the regression results of the multivariate model. With this I measure the impact of the three explanatory variables--weekend effect, holiday effect and official holiday effect--on total daily hospital admissions. In the hospital of Trikala, the coefficients of the three explanatory variables are negative and statistically significant at 1% level. In the hospital of Sparta, the two coefficients--weekend and official holiday--are negative and statistically significant at 1% level. The third coefficient of summer holidays explanatory variable is negative but statistically insignificant. During the summer months--July and August--the number of total admissions remains unchangeable, which could be explained from the touristic nature of the city of Sparta in Laconia Prefecture.
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
Only slightly over half of the variations in total hospital admissions are explained by the variations in the explanatory variables, as approve the coefficient of determination ([R.sup.2]).
The Impact and Implications of the Results on Primary Care and Rural Practice
The decline of hospital admissions during weekends, summer and official holidays should be availed by hospital managers. In that way, they have the chance to create small groups of hospital staff, i.e. a nurse and a doctor, who will go around in the city, in remote areas and villages and provide primary medicine (i.e. blood tests, heart pressure measurements, urine tests, drugs etc) in old people, people with kinetic problems, and people with special needs. The home based health support for older and other in-need people can reduce mortality and admission to long-term institutional care (Elkan et al., 2001). For high-risk patients with congestive heart failure, the home based intervention (HBI) that comprises a single home visit (by a nurse and pharmacist) is associated with reduced frequency of unplanned readmissions plus out-of-hospital deaths within 6 months of discharge from the hospital (Stewart et al., 1998, Stewart et al., 1999). Also, this practice could have a positive acceptance by people, especially after the implementation of the non-obligatory practice by rural doctors, applied in Greece in 1997. Such a practice could also contribute to the promotion of physical activity (Estabrooks et al, 2003), breastfeeding, (Morrow et al., 1999) and other healthy activities. In Greece, this practice that contributes significantly in primary care and rural practice could be encouraged and applied in many other hospitals in the country, particularly those located close to remote areas and islands that during the summer months face increased demand of patients, most of which are emergency cases (Semenza et al., 1999; Bentley, et al., 2001).
This study compares the total admissions in two regional hospitals in the city of Trikala, in Thessaly in Central Greece and in the city of Sparta, in Peloponnesus in South Greece, over the period 2001-2005. Three explanatory variables were tested--the weekend effect, the official holiday effect and the summer holiday effect. To my knowledge this issue has not been investigated in Greece. It was found that in the general hospital of Trikala, the three variables have a negative and strong statistically significant effect on total admissions. However, in the city of Sparta, the summer effect has none statistically significant impact on total hospital admissions. The other two variables have a negative sign and are both strongly statistically significant. These results are in the same line with other previous relevant empirical studies, as they discussed earlier (Abdel-Aal & Mangoud, 1998; Fullerton & Crawford, 1999; Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002; Hussain et al., 2005; Upshur et al., 2005; Jones et al., 2009).
More that fifty percent of demand variability is explained by variability of the three explanatory variables. Hospital managers could easily apply a multivariate model, such as this developed in this paper to forecast the hospital demand variability. The knowledge of the total admissions variations can assist hospital managers to receive as accurate as possible decisions about the staff, supplies and beds needed, in the short-run, and health policy makers to plan a priori, in an efficient way, the allocation of scarce hospital resources, in the long-run (Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002; Hughes & McGuire, 2003; Baker et al., 2004; Cote, 2005; Upshur et al., 2005; Perea-Milla, et al., 2007; Smet, 2007; Jones, et al., 2009).
A limitation of this study is that I use the sum of elective and emergency admissions as the dependent variable in the multivariate model. However, the impact of the independent variables used might be different for each category of hospital admissions--elective and emergency (Diaz, et al., 2001; Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002; Perea-Milla, et al., 2007; Jones, et al., 2009). Further research should test separately these effects. Emergency admissions might be less sensitive to the independent variable because of their nature. While, elective admissions can be planned ahead. The possible different effects might help hospital managers to plan in a more effective way the schedule of the staff, at the micro-level, and the capacity (bed) needs, at the medium- macro-level (Hughes & McGuire, 2003; Baker, et al., 2004; Perea-Milla, et al., 2007; Smet, 2007).
More extended models have been developed to forecast hospital demand using most commonly, epidemiological data (Hussain, et al., 2005), and weather and pollution information (Hisnanick, 1994; Diaz, et al., 2001; Jones, Joy, & Pearson, 2002). This is a weakness of the study. The application of such data could explain better the variations in total admissions observed in rural Greek public hospitals.
I am grateful to an anonymous referee for his guidance and support to accomplish this study. All my thanks go to the hospital staff of the two hospitals--Trikala and Sparta--for their considerable assistance to collect the required data. Also, I would like to thank the Greek National Scholarship Foundation (IKY) for its financial support to my postgraduate studies.
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Zoe Boutsioli, PhD, MSc 
 Researcher, Health Research Unit, Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER), email@example.com
(1) See: http://www.statistics.gr/gr tables/ S1101_SAP_1_TB_DC_01_01_Y.pdf, accessed in February 4, 2009
(2) (http://flyradio.gr/index.php?option=com_content& task=view&id=465&Itemid=1).
Table 1. Regression results Hospital Hospital of Trikala of Sparta Coefficient Coefficient (t-statistic) (t-statistic) Constant 69.19 31.62 (190.75) (162.75) Weekend -25.68 -14.38 (-41.08) (-42.95) Official holiday -17.31 -10.69 (-12.15) (-14.01) Summer holiday -3.63 -0.10 [R.sup.2] (-4.82) (0.24) * 0.5072 0.5318 [R.sup.2] Adjusted 0.5064 0.5310 F-statistic 694.99 689.86 Probability 0.0000 0.0000 Note: All coefficients are statistically significant at 1% level, apart from those noted with (*).
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|Publication:||Online Journal of Rural Nursing & Health Care|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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