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Prev Chronic Dis. 2011 Sep;8(5):A102. Epub 2011 Aug 15.

A common denominator: calculating hospitalization rates for ambulatory care-sensitive conditions in California.

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University of California, Los Angeles, 10960 Wilshire Blvd, Ste 1550, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA.

Erratum in

  • Prev Chronic Dis. 2011 Nov;8(6):A152.



Chronic health conditions are considered ambulatory care-sensitive conditions (ACSC) when the illness is controllable with effective and timely outpatient care that can potentially prevent the need for hospitalizations. Hospitalization rates for ACSC serve as an indicator of the access to and quality of primary care for chronic conditions. Standard methods to calculate hospitalization rates incorporate the total population in the denominator instead of the total population at risk for a hospitalization. By accounting for people with an ACSC, this study compares standard methods to a disease prevalence-adjusted method to highlight the importance of adjusting for ACSC prevalence when using ACSC hospitalizations in assessing primary care outpatient services.


We combined California Health Interview Survey and hospital discharge data to calculate standard (crude and age-adjusted) and disease prevalence-adjusted hospitalization rates for hypertension and congestive heart failure. To compare rate calculations, we ranked California counties by their hospitalization rate.


Counties had high prevalence and low numbers of hospitalizations for hypertension; their rankings for hospitalization rates for hypertension did not vary, even after accounting for prevalence. In contrast, counties had low prevalence and high numbers of hospitalizations for congestive heart failure; their rankings varied substantially for congestive heart failure after accounting for prevalence.


Because the number of people diagnosed with an ACSC is rising and costs to treat these conditions are increasing, our findings suggest that more accurate measures of ACSC hospitalization rates are needed. Incorporating disease prevalence will contribute to ACSC research by improving the validity of hospitalization rates as a measure for quality of primary care services.

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