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Qual Saf Health Care. 2004 Feb;13(1):32-9.

Are diagnosis specific outcome indicators based on administrative data useful in assessing quality of hospital care?

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Department of Internal Medicine, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 4102.



Hospital performance reports based on administrative data should distinguish differences in quality of care between hospitals from case mix related variation and random error effects. A study was undertaken to determine which of 12 diagnosis-outcome indicators measured across all hospitals in one state had significant risk adjusted systematic (or special cause) variation (SV) suggesting differences in quality of care. For those that did, we determined whether SV persists within hospital peer groups, whether indicator results correlate at the individual hospital level, and how many adverse outcomes would be avoided if all hospitals achieved indicator values equal to the best performing 20% of hospitals.


All patients admitted during a 12 month period to 180 acute care hospitals in Queensland, Australia with heart failure (n = 5745), acute myocardial infarction (AMI) (n = 3427), or stroke (n = 2955) were entered into the study. Outcomes comprised in-hospital deaths, long hospital stays, and 30 day readmissions. Regression models produced standardised, risk adjusted diagnosis specific outcome event ratios for each hospital. Systematic and random variation in ratio distributions for each indicator were then apportioned using hierarchical statistical models.


Only five of 12 (42%) diagnosis-outcome indicators showed significant SV across all hospitals (long stays and same diagnosis readmissions for heart failure; in-hospital deaths and same diagnosis readmissions for AMI; and in-hospital deaths for stroke). Significant SV was only seen for two indicators within hospital peer groups (same diagnosis readmissions for heart failure in tertiary hospitals and inhospital mortality for AMI in community hospitals). Only two pairs of indicators showed significant correlation. If all hospitals emulated the best performers, at least 20% of AMI and stroke deaths, heart failure long stays, and heart failure and AMI readmissions could be avoided.


Diagnosis-outcome indicators based on administrative data require validation as markers of significant risk adjusted SV. Validated indicators allow quantification of realisable outcome benefits if all hospitals achieved best performer levels. The overall level of quality of care within single institutions cannot be inferred from the results of one or a few indicators.

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