Developing a case mix classification for child and adolescent mental health services: the influence of presenting problems, complexity factors and service providers on number of appointments*

Background: Case-mix classification is a focus of international attention in considering how best to manage and fund services, by providing a basis for fairer comparison of resource utilization. Yet there is little evidence of the best ways to establish case mix for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Aim: To develop a case mix classification for CAMHS that is clinically meaningful and predictive of number of appointments attended and to investigate the influence of presenting problems, context and complexity factors and provider variation.

Method: We analysed 4573 completed episodes of outpatient care from 11 English CAMHS. Cluster analysis, regression trees and a conceptual classification based on clinical best practice guidelines were compared regarding their ability to predict number of appointments, using mixed effects negative binomial regression.

Results: The conceptual classification is clinically meaningful and did as well as data-driven classifications in accounting for number of appointments. There was little evidence for effects of complexity or context factors, with the possible exception of school attendance problems. Substantial variation in resource provision between providers was not explained well by case mix.

Conclusion: The conceptually-derived classification merits further testing and development in the context of collaborative decision making.