BackgroundReadmission rates are frequently used as a quality indicator for health care, yet their validity for evaluating quality is unclear. Published research on variables affecting readmission to psychiatric hospitals have been inconsistent. The Norwegian specialist mental health care system is characterized by a multi-level structure; hospitals providing specialized -largely unplanned care and district psychiatric centers (DPCs) providing generalized -more often planned care. In certain service systems, readmission may be an integral part of individual patients’ treatment plan.The aim of the present study was to describe and examine the task division in a multi-level health care system. This we did through describing differences in patient population (age, sex, diagnosis, substance abuse comorbidity and length of stay) and admissions types (unplanned vs. planned) treated at different levels (hospital, DPC or both), and by examining whether readmission risk differ according to type and place of treatment of index-admission and travel-time to nearest hospital and DPC.MethodsIn this population-based cohort study using administrative data we included all individuals aged 18 and older who were discharged from psychiatric inpatient care with an ICD-10 diagnosis F2-F6 (“functional mental disorders”) in 2012. Selecting each individual’s first discharge during 2012 as index gave N = 16,185 for analyses following exclusions. Analysis of readmission risk were done using Kaplan-Maier failure curves.ResultsOverall, 15.1 and 47.7% of patients were readmitted within 30 and 365 days, respectively. Unplanned admission patients were more likely to be readmitted within 30 days than planned patients. Those transferred between hospital and DPC during index admission were more likely to be readmitted within 365 days, and to experience planned readmission. Patients with short travel time were more likely to have unplanned readmission, while patients with long travel time were more likely to have planned readmission.ConclusionsDPCs and hospitals fill different purposes in the Norwegian health care system, which is reflected in different patient populations. Differences in short term readmission rates between hospitals and DPCs disappeared when type of admission (unplanned/planned) was considered. The results stress the importance of addressing differences in organisation and task distribution when comparing readmission rates between mental health systems.