A children's hospital is a hospital which offers its services exclusively to children and adolescents. Children's hospitals can serve children from birth up to the age of 18, or in some instances, children's hospitals' doctors may treat children until they finish high school. The number of children's hospitals proliferated in the 20th century, as pediatric medical and surgical specialties separated from internal medicine and adult surgical specialties.
Children's hospitals are characterized by greater attention to the psychosocial support of children and their families. Some children and young people have to spend relatively long periods in hospital, so having access to play and teaching staff can also be an important part of their care.
In addition to psychosocial support, children's hospitals have the added benefit of being staffed by professionals who are trained in treating children. While many normal hospitals can treat children adequately, pediatric specialists may be a better choice when it comes to treating rare afflictions that may prove fatal or severely detrimental to young children, in some cases before birth. Also, many children's hospitals will continue to see children with rare illnesses into adulthood, allowing for a continuity of care.
Using hospital discharge data from 2003-2011, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) studied trends in aggregate hospital costs, average hospital costs, and hospital utilization. The Agency found that for children aged 0–17, aggregate costs rose rapidly for the surgical hospitalizations and decreased for injury hospitalizations. Further, average hospital costs, or cost per discharge, increased at least 2% for all hospitalizations and were expected to grow by at least 4% through 2013. The exception to this was mental health hospitalizations, which saw a lower percentage increase of 1.2%, and was projected to increase only 0.9% through 2013. Despite the rising aggregate costs and costs per discharge, hospitalizations (except for mental health hospitalizations) for children aged 0–17 decreased over the same time, and were projected to continue decreasing.
In 2006-2011, the rate of ED use in the United States was highest for patients aged under one year, but lowest for patients aged 1-17 years. The rate of ED use for patients aged under one year declined over the same time period; this was the only age group to see a decline.
Between 2008 and 2012, growth in mean hospital costs per stay in the United States was highest for patients aged 17 and younger.
Every year US News & World Report ranks the top children's hospitals and pediatric specialties in the United States. For the year 2010-2011, eight hospitals ranked in all 10 pediatric specialties. The ranking system used by US News & World Report depends on a variety of factors. In past years (2007 was the 18th year of Pediatric Ranking), ranking of hospitals has been done solely on the basis of reputation, gauged by random sampling and surveying of pediatricians and pediatric specialists throughout the country. The ranking system used is currently under review.
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