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Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2009 Nov;2(6):548-57. doi: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.108.825612. Epub 2009 Oct 13.

Looking forward, looking back: assessing variations in hospital resource use and outcomes for elderly patients with heart failure.

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Departments of Medicine and Health Services, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA.



Recent studies have found substantial variation in hospital resource use by expired Medicare beneficiaries with chronic illnesses. By analyzing only expired patients, these studies cannot identify differences across hospitals in health outcomes like mortality. This study examines the association between mortality and resource use at the hospital level, when all Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized for heart failure are examined.


A total of 3999 individuals hospitalized with a principal diagnosis of heart failure at 6 California teaching hospitals between January 1, 2001, and June 30, 2005, were analyzed with multivariate risk-adjustment models for total hospital days, total hospital direct costs, and mortality within 180-days after initial admission ("Looking Forward"). A subset of 1639 individuals who died during the study period were analyzed with multivariate risk-adjustment models for total hospital days and total hospital direct costs within 180-days before death ("Looking Back"). "Looking Forward" risk-adjusted hospital means ranged from 17.0% to 26.0% for mortality, 7.8 to 14.9 days for total hospital days, and 0.66 to 1.30 times the mean value for indexed total direct costs. Spearman rank correlation coefficients were -0.68 between mortality and hospital days, and -0.93 between mortality and indexed total direct costs. "Looking Back" risk-adjusted hospital means ranged from 9.1 to 21.7 days for total hospital days and 0.91 to 1.79 times the mean value for indexed total direct costs. Variation in resource use site ranks between expired and all individuals were attributable to insignificant differences.


California teaching hospitals that used more resources caring for patients hospitalized for heart failure had lower mortality rates. Focusing only on expired individuals may overlook mortality variation as well as associations between greater resource use and lower mortality. Reporting values without identifying significant differences may result in incorrect assumption of true differences.

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