People with intellectual disabilities are five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with potentially preventable conditions, new research shows.

hospital corridor blurred

calendar-icon 6 October 2017

Researchers at St George’s, University of London linked primary care records – those held by GPs - with hospital admission data of adults with intellectual disabilities and compared these to patients without intellectual disabilities.

Dr Iain Carey, a senior lecturer in Epidemiology, said: “We found that adults with intellectual disabilities were five times more likely to be admitted for conditions, such as urinary tract and respiratory infections, where more effective treatment could have been given by primary care health workers like GPs could have prevented the admission to hospital.

“Strategies focusing on the specific health needs of patients with an intellectual disability, such as making sure they can see their usual GP, or are offered longer consultations when necessary, may helpfully reduce some of these potentially preventable admissions, which are expensive for hospitals and distressing for patients.”

“A particular focus on enquiring of patients and their care givers about the symptoms of common infections might help reduce the risk of hospitalisation”.

Researchers also found that they experienced twice as many emergency hospital admissions overall compared to the general population. They studied the electronic records of 16,666 adults with intellectual disabilities compared the results to 113,562 age-, sex-, and practice-matched adults without intellectual disabilities from 343 English general practices.

Among adults with intellectual disabilities, 23 percent had an emergency admission and 11 percent had multiple admissions over a three year period. In comparison, 12 percent of those in the control group had one or more emergency hospital admissions and four percent had multiple admissions.

The overall annual rate for emergency hospitalizations in adults with intellectual disabilities was 182 per 1,000 adults, nearly three times higher than the comparable group when adjusted for comorbidities, smoking and deprivation.

The most common potentially preventable reasons for the admission for adults with intellectual disabilities were convulsions/epilepsy (36 percent), lower respiratory tract infection (19 percent) and urinary tract infection (11 percent).

A person with intellectual disabilities denotes someone with a significant, lifelong condition requiring help to process information and live independently such as Down’s syndrome.

This study which looked at patients in England, is the first in the United Kingdom to use an unselected group of adults with intellectual disabilities to accurately quantify differences in emergency admissions, lays the foundation for health interventions for adults with such disabilities, particularly as their life expectancy increases.

The higher emergency admission rates for potentially preventable conditions represent an area where improvements can be made, the authors suggest.

This project was funded by the Health Services and Delivery Research Programme of the National Institute for Health Research.