Objective: To determine characteristics of patients reporting delays in care before hospitalization and the reasons for those delays.

Design: Survey; personal interviews.

Setting: Five hospitals in Massachusetts.

Patients: Subjects were drawn from a consecutive sample of all adult patients (excluding obstetrics or psychiatry patients) hospitalized during the first 6 months of 1987 as part of a larger study of hospital costs. For the current study, if patients were re-admitted, we included in our analysis only data on the first admission during the study period. We obtained usable survey data from 12 068 of 17 231 eligible patients.

Results: Delays in care were reported by 16% of patients. The odds of reporting delays in care among patients who were black, poor, uninsured, or without a regular physician were 40% to 80% greater than those for other patients (P < 0.01). Most patients who reported delays thought that their problem was not serious (64%). Cost was an important factor in delaying care for patients in lower socioeconomic positions; the odds of delaying care because of cost for patients who were both poor and uninsured were 12 times greater than the odds for other patients (P < 0.0¼1). After controllingfor diagnosis-related groups (DRGs) and severity, patients who reported delays had 9% longer hospital stays compared with others (P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Patients generally thought to be disadvantaged are at especially high risk for delaying care for conditions that eventually lead to hospitalization. Because these delays are associated with longer hospital stays and potentially poorer health outcomes, interventions that reduce delays seem especially important.


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