Annual hospital charges in North Carolina related to risky health behaviors exceeds $327 million in 2019 dollars
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study led by nonprofit research institute RTI International has found that hospitals could potentially save millions annually for services that stem from risky adolescent behaviors, such as substance use and high-risk sex, if behavioral health screening and referral to prevention (SRP) services in primary care could be more widely implemented. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that including behavioral services in primary care is an effective way to prevent risky health behaviors among youth and young adults.
To investigate the economic need for healthcare-based SRP, the authors quantified hospital charges to healthcare payors for services arising from adolescent risky behaviors (e.g., substance use, risky sex) at hospitals in North Carolina. Annual hospital charges for these services exceed $327 million in 2019 dollars, suggesting a high potential for cost savings if SRP can curb hospital services associated with risky behaviors.
“Pediatricians and family therapists expressed a high need and interest in providing SRP during well-child visits, and yet, they also report barriers such as lack of reimbursement, training, and referrals that limits widespread implementation,” said Ty A. Ridenour, Ph.D., and developmental behavioral epidemiologist at RTI and lead author of the study. “Our findings show that many barriers could be addressed by co-locating family therapists in pediatric clinics to conduct well-child SRP and save healthcare systems millions from reducing healthcare burdens caused by risky health behaviors by adolescent patients.”
Furthermore, the study found that more than 10% of North Carolina adolescents’ hospital healthcare charges are associated with risky health behaviors and that reducing these costs through prevention may be an incentive for payors to directly reimburse SRP.
“High costs stemming from adolescent risky behaviors and recent developments in healthcare-based prevention may help advance research on funding and implementing SRP,” Ridenour added.
The study was recently published in Prevention Science.