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Clinical Science

Trends in Reasons for Hospitalization in a Multisite United States Cohort of Persons Living With HIV, 2001–2008

Berry, Stephen A., MD, PhD*; Fleishman, John A., PhD; Moore, Richard D., MD, MHS*; Gebo, Kelly A., MD, MPH* For the HIV Research Network

Author Information
JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes: April 1st, 2012 - Volume 59 - Issue 4 - p 368-375
doi: 10.1097/QAI.0b013e318246b862



Persons living with HIV (PLWH) continue to be hospitalized at high rates.1–6 HIV clinicians may use knowledge of the current rates of illnesses in their efforts at prevention and early identification and for planning management of patients with organ-specific specialists. Policy-makers and health care payers may use present trends to project future areas of clinical need and associated costs.

No clear pattern of trends in illness rates among US PLWH in the current antiretroviral therapy (ART) era has yet emerged. An examination of reasons for hospitalization in 2001 in the geographically diverse multisite HIV Research Network (HIVRN) revealed that AIDS-defining illnesses (ADI) were the most frequent reason for admission, followed by gastrointestinal/liver, psychiatric, and cardiovascular.7 Recent longitudinal analyses from 2 other US cohorts, the HIV Outpatient Study (HOPS) and the military HIV Natural History Study (NHS), concurred in finding non–AIDS-defining infections, ADI, gastrointestinal/liver, cardiovascular, and pulmonary among the leading categories.4,5 However, these 2 studies did not show agreement on time trends within these categories. Factors which may be changing the pattern of morbidities since the early ART era include longer cumulative exposure to antiretrovirals and the aging of PLWH.8

This study evaluates time trends in hospitalization rates and associated lengths of stay (LOS) among diagnostic categories from 2001 to 2008 in the HIVRN. We include more recent years than were included in the HOPS analysis, and we examine a nonmilitary population, which may be more generally representative of US PLWH than is the NHS. We have previously described a decline in the all-cause hospitalization rate in the HIVRN from 35 to 27 per 100 person-years from 2002 to 2007.3


Study Population and Data Collection

The HIVRN is a consortium of 12 sites providing longitudinal adult HIV care in 11 US cities.3,9 Sites abstract comprehensive demographic, laboratory, and inpatient and outpatient utilization data from clinical records, then strip these data of identifying characteristics and submit them to a data coordinating center where they are reviewed and combined. Institutional review boards at each site and at the data-coordinating center at Johns Hopkins University have approved the collection and use of these data.

Four HIVRN sites were chosen for this analysis because of complete collection of reasons for hospitalization in the form of International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) codes. These codes are assigned by trained clinical abstractors in the generation of billing claims with the first-listed code generally required to be the primary reason for hospitalization. The 4 HIVRN sites are academically affiliated and are located in the West (2), the South (1), and the Northeast (1). All patients ≥18 years old receiving longitudinal HIV care at these sites 2001–2008 were included in this analysis.

Years of active outpatient care were defined by having at least 1 HIV clinician visit and 1 measured CD4 cell count (either of which could have been routinely scheduled or generated by an acute complaint). Loss to follow-up was defined as becoming inactive from outpatient care for any reason other than death. Subjects returned to observation if and when they returned to active care. Although sometimes available, hospitalization data from inactive years were excluded because some subjects who were lost to follow-up probably received care, including hospitalizations, at outside institutions.

Outcome Variables

Several steps were taken in assigning each hospitalization to a single diagnostic category. The first step was determining the primary ICD-9 code. Using a method similar to one we have previously employed,10,11 the first listed code referring to neither HIV (042, V08, 795.71, V01.79) nor chronic Hepatitis C (070.44, 070.54, 070.70, 070.71) was defined as the primary code for the hospitalization. Hospitalizations (173 total) with a first-listed code for “chemotherapy encounter” (V58.11 and V58.12) were assigned to the first subsequent code for a type of cancer.

Second, Clinical Classification Software (CCS) developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality,12 was used to assign the primary ICD-9 code into one of 18 first-level categories, for example, infection, cardiovascular. Hospitalizations (42 total, or 0.3%) for which the only ICD-9 code referred to HIV or to chronic Hepatitis C were classified as missing.

Last, we modified the CCS classification in several ways. First, the CCS assigns many infections to an organ system category rather than to the infection category. We reassigned ICD-9 codes falling into the following CCS sub-levels to the infection category: central nervous system infection; infection of the eye; otitis media; endocarditis; respiratory infection; intestinal infection; anal and rectal conditions; peritonitis and intestinal abscess; urinary tract infections; inflammatory conditions of the genitals; skin and subcutaneous tissue infections; infective arthritis and osteomyelitis; infection and inflammation of an internal prosthesis; postoperative infection. We also reassigned unspecified sepsis (995.91 and 995.92) from the injury/poisoning category to the infectious category, alcoholic cirrhosis (571.2) from psychiatric to gastrointestinal/liver, and hypertensive chronic kidney disease (403.00–403.91) from cardiovascular to renal/genitourinary (“renal”). Next, we constructed a separate category for ADI by reassigning appropriate admissions according to individual ICD-9 codes (see Table, Supplemental Digital Content 1, as per the 1993 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Revised Classification.13 Recurrent bacterial pneumonia was defined as any bacterial pneumonia admission occurring within >30 but ≤365 days of a previous such admission.

To determine the most frequent individual diagnoses within each category, frequently appearing individual ICD-9 codes were explored using an online ICD-9 description tool.14 Where appropriate, we grouped highly similar codes into individual diagnosis groups. For example, within the cardiovascular category, unspecified chest pain (786.50); precordial pain (786.51); and discomfort, pressure, or tightness in the chest (786.59) were grouped together as “chest pain”. The Supplemental Table describes all such groupings (see Supplemental Digital Content 1,

For each diagnostic category, 2 LOS outcomes were examined. The first was the person-years–specific mean LOS, and the second was the patient-specific mean LOS aggregated across all years. In creating these variables, the LOS for an individual admission was determined by subtracting the admission date from the discharge date and adding one. Hence, same-day admission and discharges counted as one day. Person-years with no admissions were not included in LOS analyses.

Independent Variables

We analyzed several covariates thought to be associated with hospitalization rate. We categorized race and ethnicity as non-Hispanic Black (Black), non-Hispanic White (White), Hispanic, and other. The racial groups Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian comprised too few subjects (117 and 44, respectively) to perform meaningful statistical tests. For purposes of analysis, these groups were combined into the “other” category. Subjects reporting an HIV risk factor of injection drug use (IDU) in conjunction with another risk factor, for example, men who have sex with men, were coded as IDU. Age, CD4 count, and HIV-1 RNA level were time varying according to calendar year. Age was categorized as 18–35, 36–49, and ≥50 years. For CD4 and HIV-1 RNA, the first measurements of each year were used.


Rates of hospitalizations due to all causes and within each diagnostic category were calculated as the number of hospitalizations per 100 person-years. We conducted comparative cross-sectional analyses. After graphic exploration of rates over time, calendar year was coded as a linear trend. Assessments of time trends in hospitalization rates and in yearly mean LOS were performed with repeated-measures negative binomial regression, separately by diagnostic category. Differences in time-aggregated mean LOS between diagnostic categories were assessed in a negative binomial regression model with dummy variables for each diagnostic category (with ADI as the reference). All models used generalized estimating equations and robust variance estimators. A 2-sided type 1 error of 5% was considered statistically significant. All analyses were performed using Stata 11.0 (StataCorp LP, College Station, TX).15


During 2001–2008, 11,645 subjects were observed in 40,499 person-years of active outpatient care. The median number of active years was 3 (interquartile range, 1–5). At least 1 instance of drop out from active care occurred for 6975 subjects (60%) with 1482 subjects (21% of those who dropped out) returning to observation at least once and 1128 (16% of those who dropped out) having their only instance of drop out due to death. In 2001, the cohort was 72% male, 43% Black, 39% White, 15% Hispanic, 28% IDU, and had a median age of 40 years (Table 1). By 2008, relative decreases in the percentages of Blacks (41%) and Whites (36%) were accompanied by an increase among Hispanics (19%) (χ2P < 0.01 for each comparison); IDU decreased to 20% (χ2P < 0.001); and median age increased to 45 years (rank sum P < 0.001). The median CD4 count on first measurement of the year increased steadily from 341 (177–550) to 416 (240–613) cells per microliter between 2001 and 2008 (rank sum P < 0.001). The percentage of subjects with HIV RNA <400 copies increased from 35% in 2001 to 59% in 2008 [odds ratio per year (95% confidence interval), 1.19 (1.18 to 1.20)].

Patient Characteristics

During active care, 4423 subjects (38% of all subjects) were hospitalized at least once, resulting in a total of 13,323 hospitalizations. Among those hospitalized, the median number of admissions was 2.1–4 The unadjusted all-cause hospitalization rate showed a decline from 37.1 per 100 person-years in 2001 to 28.9 per 100 person-years in 2008 [incidence rate ratio (IRR) per year 0.98 (0.97, 0.99), Fig. 1].

Unadjusted hospitalization rates by diagnostic categories. *GI/Liver, 0.96 (0.92, 1.00). †Psych, 0.96 (0.93, 1.00). NAD, non–AIDS-defining; GI, gastrointestinal; Psych, psychiatric; Cardiovasc, cardiovascular; Endo/Met, endocrine/metabolic/nutritional/immune; GU, genitourinary.

Non–AIDS-defining infection was the most frequent diagnostic category, totaling 26% of all admissions and having a mean rate across the study period of 8.6 per 100 person-years. For all years combined, the 3 most frequent individual non–AIDS-defining infection diagnoses were bacterial pneumonia, cellulitis, and septicemia (Table 2). Together, these 3 diagnoses were responsible for 13% of all admissions. The unadjusted hospitalization rate for non–AIDS-defining infections showed a borderline significant decline over time, IRR per year 0.98 (0.96, 1.00) (Fig. 1).

Frequencies of Diagnostic Categories and of the 3 Most Frequent Individual Diagnoses Within Each Category Among 13,323 Total Admissions

ADI was the second most frequent diagnostic category, at 15% of all-cause hospitalizations over the study period. The ADI hospitalization rate declined from 6.7 in 2001 to 2.7 in 2008 [IRR per year 0.89 (0.87, 0.91)]. This was the largest degree of change among all diagnostic categories.

Cardiovascular, psychiatric, and gastrointestinal/liver were, respectively, the next most frequent diagnostic categories and had average rates across the study interval between 2 and 3 per 100 person-years. In unadjusted analyses, cardiovascular hospitalizations became more frequent over time [IRR per year 1.07 (1.03, 1.11)] while gastrointestinal/liver and psychiatric admissions had declines of borderline significance (Fig. 1).

Renal; non–AIDS-defining cancer; pulmonary; and endocrine, nutritional, metabolic, immune (endocrine/metabolic) were next in frequency and had average rates across the study interval between 1 and 2 per 100 person-years. In unadjusted analyses, renal admissions and pulmonary admissions increased in frequency while the other categories did not show significant changes.

Diagnostic categories with average rates less than 1 per 100 person-years included injury/poisoning, symptomatic, hematologic, neurologic, orthopedic, obstetric/gynecologic, dermatologic, unclassified, congenital, perinatal, and missing (comprising 1% of all admissions).

For frequent diagnostic categories, Table 3 shows multivariate analyses of hospitalization rates. As in univariate analysis, ADI hospitalizations were associated with a declining time trend; gastrointestinal/liver with a borderline declining time trend; and cardiovascular, renal, and pulmonary hospitalizations with increasing time trends. In multivariate analysis, all-cause, non–AIDS-defining infections, and psychiatric were no longer associated with declines over time. Categories with stable time trends in univariate analyses (non–AIDS-defining cancer, endocrine/metabolic, and injury/poisoning) continued to show stability in multivariate analyses.

Multivariate Analysis of Factors Associated With Hospitalization Rate by Diagnostic Category

In multivariate analyses, several patient characteristics were associated with higher hospitalization rates among the most frequent diagnostic categories (Table 3). Age ≥50 years was associated with a higher hospitalization rate than age ≤35 in all categories except ADI. The association for age ≥50 was particularly strong for cardiovascular [IRR vs. ≤35 years old, 5.01 (3.41, 7.38)]. Among subjects ≥50, cardiovascular surpassed ADI to become the second most frequent category and accounted for 13% of all admissions. Blacks, women, and IDUs tended to have higher hospitalization rates across most diagnostic categories. Black race was strongly associated with renal admissions [IRR vs. White race, 3.45 (2.63, 4.52)]. Lower CD4 count strata were associated with hospitalization within every frequent diagnostic category.

For cardiovascular hospitalizations, we evaluated whether codifying age as a categorical variable might have failed to capture the full effect of this potential strong confounder of the relationship with calendar time. In alternate models, we codified age as both a linear and a quadratic variable. In both cases, the multivariate calendar time trends (IRR 1.05 per year [1.01, 1.09]) were similar to the trend produced by the categorical age variable [1.06 (1.02, 1.10)].

Because of the known association of IDU with viral hepatitis, the rate of GI hospitalizations was investigated by IDU and non-IDU subgroups. Among 2775 IDU, the univariate [IRR per year 0.94 (0.88, 1.00)] and multivariate [0.93 (0.88, 0.99)] time trends were declining. Among 8870 non IDU, the univariate [0.98 (0.93, 1.03)] and multivariate [0.99 (0.94, 1.04)] time trends were not significantly changing. There was no statistically significant interaction between IDU and calendar time (P > 0.20 for each interaction term in a model containing the interactions between IDU and year codified categorically 2001–2008).

The yearly mean LOS did not change significantly over time within diagnostic categories (either in univariate or multivariate analyses, results not shown). For the most frequent diagnostic categories, Table 4 shows the mean LOS, calculated across all years. The result for ADI was 10.5 days, significantly longer than for any other category. The result for cardiovascular was 5.9 days, which ranked near the lowest. The mean time-aggregated LOS across all categories was 7.2 days.

LOS by Diagnostic Category


Our study has several important findings. The ADI hospitalization rate declined sharply, with the 2008 rate being less than half of the 2001 rate and the category decreasing from 18% of all admissions in 2001 to 8% of all admissions in 2008. Non–AIDS-defining infection was the most frequent category across all years and was not significantly changing over time in multivariate analysis. Cardiovascular, renal, and pulmonary hospitalization rates increased significantly. Other relatively frequent categories; psychiatric, gastrointestinal/liver, non–AIDS-defining cancer, and endocrine/metabolic; did not have clear trends. Finally, LOS differed substantially across diagnostic categories and was longest for ADI.

The strong decline in ADIs represents continued progress. The trend coincided with substantial immunologic and virologic improvements in the cohort. Shorter duration with low CD4 count because of more timely and/or more tolerable ART may have been an important unmeasured contributor. This decline resembles the decline apparent for ADIs during 2000–2005 in the HOPS and contrasts with the relative stability of ADIs in the NHS 1999–2007.4,5 In the latter study, the average annual CD4 count was higher (554 cells/mm3) and stable across time. From a public health perspective, most ADIs are theoretically preventable through early HIV case finding, engagement in care, and use of ART. The long LOS associated with ADI admissions likely increases the cost of ADI admissions compared with other categories. Despite the decline, as of 2008, ADIs remain relatively frequent, and persistent efforts to further reduce incidence are needed.

The frequency and relative stability of non–AIDS-defining infection admissions indicates that despite the decline in ADIs, management of infections remains a large component of HIV health care. Our finding of a stable multivariate time trend was distinct from the moderate declines seen in the HOPS and NHS. Non–AIDS-defining infections comprised a relatively larger proportion of hospitalizations than in the HOPS, the NHS, or in our prior HIVRN study. These 3 studies classified many infections with organ system categories (eg, pneumonia classified with pulmonary). In the present study, we made non–AIDS-defining infection the more inclusive category because antimicrobials are the primary therapy and because many cases require infectious diseases specialist involvement.

The frequency and the increasing time trends in cardiovascular, renal, and pulmonary hospitalizations are notable findings but ultimately require confirmation in other studies. Most recent studies among PLWH have not found similar increases. In one instance of similarity, cardiovascular hospitalizations among PLWH in Denmark increased from 2.5 to 4.4 per 100 person-years during 1995–2007.16 In contrast, renal and pulmonary hospitalization rates did not increase in this cohort, and no statistically significant increases were seen in any of these 3 diagnostic categories in either the HOPS or NHS.4,5 With approximately 5000 patients under observation annually, our analytic sample was larger than the other cohorts (1500–3000 patients annually). It is also possible that the increases we have identified in cardiovascular, renal, and pulmonary admissions may simply reflect trends in the general population rather than any effect specific to PLWH. To the contrary, reports of nation-wide data through 2008 suggest decreases in hospitalizations for myocardial infarctions and heart failure and uncertainty surrounding obstructive pulmonary disease hospitalization trends.17–19 However, a slight increase in general population renal hospitalizations has been described.20

Assuming increases in one or more of these 3 categories do represent effects particular to PLWH, then identification of underlying causes and consideration of the implications for HIV health care are warranted. Although our cohort was aging over the study interval, our multivariate analyses support the conclusion that age was not the sole factor underlying the increasing rates. Cumulative exposure to certain antiretrovirals (eg, protease inhibitors and tenofovir) and/or to uncontrolled HIV disease has previously been associated with cardiovascular and renal illnesses.21–28 A limitation of our dataset is that we could not evaluate medication exposures, cumulative HIV exposure, or smoking in the case of pulmonary disease. Presently in the United States, there may be substantial variation in whether primary care for PLWH is provided by HIV specialists (some of whom have infectious diseases training) or by separate primary care practitioners.29,30 The growing breadth of complications may signify need to emphasize the latter model or to reconsider what training components are needed to make an HIV specialist. Finally, increases in admissions in these end-organ disease categories may forecast increasing chronic medication costs (eg, antiplatelet and lipid-lowering agents in the case of cardiovascular disease).

Unlike a rise noted in the first 5 years after ART in several cohorts,6,10,31 gastrointestinal/liver admissions did not increase during 2001–2008. Unexpectedly, gastrointestinal/liver rates declined among the subgroup of IDU. We have previously speculated that with longer survival from ADIs, PLWH coinfected with Hepatitis C (HCV) would have had a persistent increase in hepatic illness over time.11 Similar to our results, no increase occurred in the HOPS, the NHS, nor Spanish, Danish and Australian studies.4,5,16,31,32 While not increasing, gastrointestinal/liver still represents a leading category of illness in all of these cohorts. Given the strong etiologic role for HCV, access to HCV medicines will be important for the foreseeable future.

The overall frequency of psychiatric admissions and their relatively long LOS highlights persistent need for access to outpatient psychiatric care and coverage of psychotropic medicines.

We did not detect an increase in hospitalizations for non–AIDS-defining cancers 2001–2008. This is generally consistent with recent studies of cancer incidence, which have noted increases in specific cancers (eg, anal cancer, Hodgkin Disease), but no clear increase in overall non–AIDS-defining cancer incidence since 2001.33–37

A possible limitation of our study is the use of ICD-9 codes. This may be less accurate than physician chart review, although two validation studies using similar methodology at one site found >95% concurrence with chart review.10,11 Another limitation of this study is that we are not certain of data collection from hospitalizations occurring outside the HIVRN site hospitals. Although each site makes attempts to capture utilization data from neighboring clinicians, this may be incomplete. At 1 site, an analysis of state-wide insurance claims revealed that 91% of all admissions occurred at the home hospital.10 We expect that this lack of data from outside institutions generates a slight underestimation of hospitalization rates; however, we do not expect that it substantially affects the relative pattern across diagnostic categories.

A final limitation is that our data come from only 4 sites and may not be widely generalizable. Compared with the 26,929 subjects who received care during 2001–2008 at the 8 nonselected HIVRN sites, the 11,645 subjects included in this analysis were comparable with respect to age, gender, median CD4 count, and HIV RNA and number of years in care but were less likely to be Black (38% vs. 53%) or Hispanic (19% vs. 23%), and were more likely to be men who have sex with men (41% vs. 36%) or IDU (24% vs. 18%). Our multivariate analyses accounting for the effects of demographic and clinical variables may help to increase the generalizability of our findings. Nevertheless, we believe further studies will be needed to confirm if the trends we have seen are widely representative among PLWH.

In summary, we have found that a strong decline in ADI hospitalizations has been coupled with relative stability or increases in non–AIDS-defining infection, cardiovascular, psychiatric, gastrointestinal/liver, renal, non–AIDS-defining cancer, pulmonary, and endocrine/metabolic admissions in our large mostly inner-city cohort. Further improvements in access to care and use of ART may help ensure a continued decline in ADIs. However, there is also an increasing need for preventing, managing, and paying for general medical conditions among PLWH.


We thank the patients, providers, and staff of the HIVRN.


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HIVRN Details

Participating Sites: Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California (Howard Edelstein, MD); Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Richard Rutstein, MD); Community Health Network, Rochester, New York (Roberto Corales, DO); Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Sara Allen, CRNP, Jeffery Jacobson, MD); Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (Kelly Gebo, MD, Richard Moore, MD); Montefiore Medical Group, Bronx, New York (Robert Beil, MD); Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York (Lawrence Hanau, MD); Nemechek Health Renewal, Kansas City, Missouri (Patrick Nemechek, D.O.); Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon (P. Todd Korthuis, MD); Parkland Health and Hospital System, Dallas, Texas (Laura Armas-Kolostroubis, MD); St Jude's Children's Hospital and University of Tennessee, Memphis, Tennessee (Aditya Gaur, MD); St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, New York (Victoria Sharp, MD).

Tampa General Health Care, Tampa, Florida (Charurut Somboonwit, MD); University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California (Stephen Spector, MD); University of California, San Diego, California (W. Christopher Mathews, MD); Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan (Jonathan Cohn, MD).

Sponsoring Agencies: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, Maryland (Fred Hellinger, PhD, John Fleishman, PhD, Irene Fraser, PhD); Health Resources and Services Administration, Rockville, Maryland (Alice Kroliczak, PhD, Robert Mills, PhD).

Data Coordinating Center: Johns Hopkins University (Richard Moore, MD, Jeanne Keruly, CRNP, Kelly Gebo, MD, Cindy Voss, MS, Bonnie Cameron, MS).


AIDS-defining illnesses; hospitalizations; health care utilization; organ-system comorbidities

Supplemental Digital Content

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.