Introduction: Children with chronic wet cough regularly use the health system, experience considerable variability in care, have reduced quality of life (QoL), and, left untreated, poorer health outcomes. Despite this, little is known about the associated economic burden. This study aimed to quantify the cost of chronic wet cough among Australian children from the perspectives of families and the health system.
Methods: A cost of illness study was conducted at the Queensland Children's Hospital, Brisbane, using data on 91 children newly referred to a respiratory specialist between July 2015 and January 2017 with a history of chronic wet cough (>4 weeks) of unknown etiology. Administrative and parent-reported data were used to estimate costs (reported in 2019 Australian Dollars [AUD]) for up to 12 months before and following initial pulmonology consultation. QoL was assessed for the same periods.
Results: Mean cost per child-month during the average 9.8 months of observation preceding pulmonology consultation was AUD689 (95% confidence interval [CI] 534–844) increasing to AUD1339 (95% CI 1051–1628) during the average 11.9 months following pulmonology consultation. This translated to a total of AUD1.9 million across the study period, with families bearing 26.4% of costs. Aspiration and bronchiectasis were associated with higher total costs. For all etiologies, cough-specific QoL improved following pulmonology consultation, while direct medical costs declined.
Conclusion: Childhood chronic wet cough is associated with substantial societal costs. The observed cost decrease after specialist diagnosis suggests that early referral to a respiratory specialist may have economic benefits, in addition to the known health benefits.