Open Access Open Badges Research article

The health services burden of heart failure: an analysis using linked population health data-sets

Jane Robertson15*, Patrick McElduff2, Sallie-Anne Pearson3, David A Henry14, Kerry J Inder1 and John R Attia12

Author Affiliations

1 School of Medicine and Public Health, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

2 Hunter Medical Research Institute, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

3 UNSW Cancer Research Centre, University of New South Wales and Prince of Wales Clinical School, Sydney, Australia

4 Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

5 Clinical Pharmacology, Calvary Mater Hospital, The University of Newcastle, Clinical Sciences Building, Waratah, NSW, 2298, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:103  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-103

Published: 25 April 2012



The burden of patients with heart failure on health care systems is widely recognised, although there have been few attempts to quantify individual patterns of care and differences in health service utilisation related to age, socio-economic factors and the presence of co-morbidities. The aim of this study was to assess the typical profile, trajectory and resource use of a cohort of Australian patients with heart failure using linked population-based, patient-level data.


Using hospital separations (Admitted Patient Data Collection) with death registrations (Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages) for the period 2000–2007 we estimated age- and gender-specific rates of index admissions and readmissions, risk factors for hospital readmission, mean length of stay (LOS), median survival and bed-days occupied by patients with heart failure in New South Wales, Australia.


We identified 29,161 index admissions for heart failure. Admission rates increased with age, and were higher for males than females for all age groups. Age-standardised rates decreased over time (256.7 to 237.7/100,000 for males and 235.3 to 217.1/100,000 for females from 2002–3 to 2006–7; p = 0.0073 adjusted for gender). Readmission rates (any cause) were 27% and 73% at 28-days and one year respectively; readmission rates for heart failure were 11% and 32% respectively. All cause mortality was 10% and 28% at 28 days and one year. Increasing age was associated with more heart failure readmissions, longer LOS and shorter median survival. Increasing age, increasing Charlson comorbidity score and male gender were risk factors for hospital readmission. Cohort members occupied 954,888 hospital bed-days during the study period (any cause); 383,646 bed-days were attributed to heart failure admissions.


The rates of index admissions for heart failure decreased significantly in both males and females over the study period. However, the impact on acute care hospital beds was substantial, with heart failure patients occupying almost 200,000 bed-days per year in NSW over the five year study period. The strong age-related trends highlight the importance of stabilising elderly patients before discharge and community-based outreach programs to better manage heart failure and reduce readmissions.

Heart failure; Hospitalization; Health services research; Australia