Author + information
- Received November 19, 1997
- Revision received June 2, 1998
- Accepted June 12, 1998
- Published online October 1, 1998.
- Eric D Peterson, MD, MPH∗,†,* (, )
- Elizabeth R DeLong, PhD∗,‡,
- James G Jollis, MD, FACC∗,†,
- Lawrence H Muhlbaier, PhD∗,‡ and
- Daniel B Mark, MD, MPH, FACC∗,†
- ↵*Address for correspondence: Dr. Eric D. Peterson, Box 3236, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710
Objective. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of provider profiling on bypass surgery access and outcomes in elderly patients in New York.
Background. Since 1989, New York (NY) has compiled provider-specific bypass surgery mortality reports. While some have proposed that “provider profiling” has led to lower surgical mortality rates, critics have suggested that such programs lower in-state procedural access (increasing out-of-state transfers) without improving patient outcomes.
Methods. Using national Medicare data, we examined trends in the percentages of NY residents aged 65 years or older receiving out-of-state bypass surgery between 1987 and 1992 (before and after program initiation). We also examined in-state procedure use among elderly myocardial infarction patients during this period. Finally, we compared trends in surgical outcomes in NY Medicare patients with those for the rest of the nation.
Results. Between 1987 and 1992, the percentage of NY residents receiving bypass out-of-state actually declined (from 12.5% to 11.3%, p < 0.01 for trend). An elderly patient’s likelihood for bypass following myocardial infarction in NY increased significantly since the program’s initiation. Between 1987 and 1992, unadjusted 30-day mortality rates following bypass declined by 33% in NY Medicare patients compared with a 19% decline nationwide (p < 0.001). As a result of this improvement, NY had the lowest risk-adjusted bypass mortality rate of any state in 1992.
Conclusions. We found no evidence that NY’s provider profiling limited procedure access in NY’s elderly or increased out-of-state transfers. Despite an increasing preoperative risk profile, procedural outcomes in NY improved significantly faster than the national average.
In 1989, the New York (NY) State Department of Health began collecting detailed clinical data on all coronary artery bypass surgery cases performed in that state. These data were then used to develop hospital- and surgeon-specific risk-adjusted mortality reports (1–6). In 1990, a NY hospital was suspended from performing bypass surgery, in part because their observed mortality significantly exceeded the expected rate. In response to a 1991 lawsuit, NY officials were required to publicly release surgeon-specific outcomes data under the Freedom of Information Act (7). Since 1992, the NY State Department of Health has voluntarily released annual provider-specific procedure mortality profiles.
The impact of NY’s provider-profiling effort has been controversial. Hannan et al. (1)have reported that overall unadjusted and risk-adjusted bypass surgery mortality rates declined by 21% and 41%, respectively, between 1989 and 1992. They concluded that much of this improvement in procedural outcomes might be due to NY’s profiling efforts. In contrast, others suggested that the improved procedural outcomes in NY resulted from a change in patient selection rather than an actual improvement in quality of care (8). Surgeons may have deferred performing bypass on higher-risk patients either by transferring these patients to hospitals outside NY, or by directly refusing to offer the procedure in high-risk situations. Both of these behaviors have been anecdotally reported. Omoigui et al. (9)noted that patient transfers to the Cleveland Clinic from NY hospitals rose by 31% between 1989 and 1993. These NY transfers had generally higher risk profiles than patients transferred from Ohio or other states. Similarly, a New York Timesreporter detailed how her father was refused open heart surgery in NY, presumably because of several surgeons’ concern for their own outcomes statistics (10). A third explanation for NY’s declining mortality was that it merely reflected concurrent national improvements in surgical outcomes. For example, Ghali et al. (11)recently reported that Massachusetts experienced declines in bypass surgery mortality similar to those reported in NY despite not having a statewide profiling effort.
Our study objectives were to use the national Medicare database to assess the impact of NY’s provider profiling program on procedure access and patient outcomes. First, we examined whether provider profiling had increased the percentage of NY’s elderly residents going out-of-state for bypass surgery. Second, we investigated whether the use of bypass surgery following myocardial infarction (MI) had declined in NY’s elderly since the initiation of provider profiling. Finally, we examined whether bypass surgery outcomes were improving more rapidly in NY than in the rest of the nation during this period.
Our primary data source was the Medicare claims files provided by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). These included the Medicare Provider Analysis and Review File (used by HCFA between 1987 and 1990) and the newer Medicare claims format, the National Claims History Files (used since 1991). Both files contain demographic and limited clinical and procedural information (ICD-9-CM codes) on all in-patient hospitalizations that are billed to Medicare. A patient’s residence was defined by his/her primary Medicare mail ing address. Medicare hospital identifier codes were also used to define the location of a specific hospital admission. Mortality data through the first quarter of 1993 came from Medicare records and date-of-death files.
Our overall bypass surgery study population consisted of all Medicare patients age ≥65 years who underwent bypass surgery (ICD-9-CM codes 36.10 through 36.19) between 1987 to 1992 in a U.S. hospital. To avoid counting patients twice, patients undergoing multiple bypass procedures during the study period were included only once, defined by the initial procedure. We also excluded Medicare patients who were under age 65 years, those Medicare benefits as part of the Railroad Retirement Board or because of end-stage renal disease.
We also examined trends in the use of bypass surgery during the initial episode of care (index hospitalization linked with between-hospital transfers) in higher risk elderly patient subsets who were admitted to NY hospitals with an acute MI. Patients were considered to have been admitted for an acute MI if their principal diagnosis was ICD-9-CM code 410, or, if they had a secondary diagnosis of MI and a principal diagnosis of a complication of infarction (such as papillary muscle rupture). We also examined bypass surgery use in very high risk MI subgroups including those with advanced age (e.g., 75 to 80 years) and those with other preoperative risk factors such as congestive heart failure, diabetes mellitus and renal insufficiency (2,12,13).
We compared demographic and clinical characteristics for patients undergoing bypass surgery in NY hospitals during the study period with those receiving procedures in the rest of the nation (U.S. non-NY). We also examined trends in the yearly number, rate and baseline characteristics for CABG procedures performed in NY hospitals. The yearly NY CABG rate was calculated by dividing the number of NY CABG procedures performed per year by the overall NY Medicare resident enrollee population (available from Medicare’s 100% Denominator File). Similar baseline comparisons were also made between NY residents receiving surgery in a NY hospital (in-state) and those receiving procedures in a hospital outside NY (out-of-state). The frequencies of coded comorbid diseases (for example, congestive heart failure or renal disease) were determined using ICD-9-CM applied to discharge abstract information (14). We also calculated a composite measure of comorbidity, the Charlson Index, applied to these ICD-9-CM diagnoses (14–16).
We tested the significance of temporal trends in patient characteristics and out-of-state procedure rates using simple linear regression models (for continuous variables) and logistic regression models (for categorical variables) with year as the independent variable. Comparisons of trends in bypass surgery use in NY vs. U.S. non-NY hospital MI patients were made using regression models which included procedure year, hospital location (NY vs. non-NY) and an interaction term (hospital location by year) as independent predictors and tested the significance of the interaction term. Comparison of temporal trends in unadjusted 30-day mortality rates in NY vs. U.S. non-NY hospitals was made in a similar fashion.
We used a logistic regression model to calculate the risk-adjusted yearly decline in the likelihood for 30-day mortality following bypass surgery for individual states. This model included preoperative risk factors (patient age, race, gender, acute MI admission and Charlson comorbidity index), hospital location (each state), procedure year (continuous variable) and the interaction terms (state by procedure year). For each state, the coefficient of (state by year) interaction term, when added to the coefficient for procedure year and exponentiated, represents the yearly odds of mortality for the particular state. This odds ratio was converted to a yearly decline by comparison to 1.0 (e.g., an odds ratio of 0.93 implies a decline of 7%).
Finally, risk adjusted mortality rates by state in 1992 were calculated by using a similar regression model after limiting the dataset to include 1992 procedures only (and excluding temporal factors). State-specific coefficients from this model (relative to the comparison state, NY) were then converted to odds ratios. These odds ratios were then multiplied by the NY mortality rate for 1992 to get state-specific, risk adjusted 1992 mortality rates. This method uses the NY rate as a standard to which all other state rates are compared (17).
Baseline characteristics for NY and U.S. non-NY patients receiving bypass surgery between 1987 and 1992 are displayed in Table 1. While NY bypass patients were generally similar to those from the rest of the United States, NY patients were slightly older, more likely to have diabetes mellitus and congestive heart failure and less likely to have had an acute MI prior to bypass surgery. Table 2displays temporal trends in bypass surgery use in NY’s Medicare population between 1987 and 1992. The number of bypass procedures performed rose by 57% during this period, from 5,170 in 1987 to 8,120 in 1992. The yearly bypass rate among NY Medicare resident enrollees also rose by 50% between 1987 and 1992; from 2.4 to 3.6 bypass cases per 1,000 enrollees per year. The mean age of NY’s bypass patients also rose slightly, including a significantly higher percentage of octogenarian patients (p < 0.001 for trend). There was also a rise in the percentage of bypass surgery cases that were performed following an acute MI, and in those with multiple comorbid illnesses (p < 0.001 for trend). In terms of changes in process measures, there was a significant increase in the use of internal mammary artery grafts during bypass in NY, from 30% in 1987 to 51% in 1992 (p < 0.001 for trend).
Out-of-state bypass use
Figure 1displays temporal trends in the percentage of NY residents receiving bypass surgery out-of-state. The out-of-state procedure rate prior to provider profiling (1987 to 1989) ranged between 12.5% and 14.3% per year. After the program was initiated, NY’s out-of-state bypass surgery rate declined to its lowest rate (11.3%) in 1992. In fact, the overall trend for out-of-state bypass surgery use declined between 1987 and 1992 (p < 0.001 for trend).
Although the overall percentage of out-of-state bypass surgery referrals declined after provider profiling began, it remained possible that there was a bias towards referring higher risk patient out-of-state. Table 3compares patient characteristics for NY residents receiving bypass surgery in-state vs. those referred out-of-state. In contrast with prior reports (9), NY residents receiving out-of-state surgery had demographics similar to those receiving in-state surgery.
In-state access to bypass surgery
To address whether bypass surgery was less accessible to NY’s higher risk elderly after provider profiling initiation, we examined trends in bypass surgery use among patients aged 65 to 70 years and 75 to 80 years who were admitted for acute MI (Fig. 2). While NY MI patients were generally less likely to receive bypass surgery than those admitted outside NY, the percentage of NY MI patients receiving surgery rose significantly from 1987 to 1992. For example, the rate of in-hospital bypass surgery among NY MI patients aged 65 to 70 rose from 3.4% in 1987 to 8.4% in 1992, paralleling national trends (Fig. 2). We subsequently repeated this analysis for even higher risk elderly subsets (i.e., those with concomitant MI and congestive heart failure, diabetes mellitus or renal insufficiency). The results in each case were the same as described for the overall MI group (demonstrating increased bypass use in NY in these high risk subgroups over time, paralleling national trends). Thus, we found no evidence that the initiation of NY’s profiling program has resulted in a decline in procedural access for NY’s elderly residents.
Trends in bypass surgery mortality
Figure 3displays temporal trends in 30-day unadjusted mortality rates following bypass surgery for NY and U.S. non-NY Medicare patients. While unadjusted mortality rates fell significantly for both groups between 1987 and 1992, it fell significantly faster in NY than in the rest of the nation (p = 0.005 for interaction term, NY by year). For example, NY’s 30-day mortality rate following bypass declined by 33% from 1987 to 1992 (from 6.0% to 4.0%). For U.S. non-NY patients, bypass surgery mortality declined by 19% (from 6.7% to 5.4%) during this period. Similarly, for the 4-year period from 1989 to 1992 (when NY’s provider profiling existed), the corresponding decline in observed bypass mortality in NY vs. the rest of the nation was 22% vs. 9% (p < 0.001).
We also calculated the degree to which NY patients’ average yearly procedural mortality risk declined relative to the rest of the nation. After adjusting for age, race, gender, acute MI admission and comorbid illness, a NY patient’s likelihood for dying within 30 days of bypass surgery declined an average of 10.3% per year between 1987 and 1992 compared with 5.8% for patients in the rest of the nation.
As a final method of examining the relationship between provider profiling programs and surgical outcomes, we displayed each state’s yearly decline in bypass mortality (from 1987 to 1992) by their ending (1992) procedural mortality rate (Fig. 4). In Figure 4the cross-bars represent the national averages for these two measures, thus creating quadrants. If NY’s provider profiling program influenced surgical outcomes, NY’s surgical mortality rate should have declined faster than the majority of states (right half of the graph) and they should have one of the lowest ending mortality rates (bottom half of the graph). As is evident, NY was one of the nation’s most improved bypass performer’s between 1987 and 1992 and had the nation’s lowest surgical mortality rate in 1992. Interestingly, surgical outcomes in northern New England (Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire), another area which has implemented bypass surgery provider profiling programs, also declined faster than the national average and had lower than average mortality rates in 1992.
Since 1989, the NY State Department of Health has collected detailed clinical and outcomes data on all patients undergoing bypass surgery in their state, and has used these data to report both unadjusted and risk-adjusted bypass surgery mortality rates (1). New York was the first state in the nation to publicly release these provider profiles as “cardiovascular scorecards,” meant to increase consumer awareness (18). While many have suggested (on the basis of anecdotal reports) that provider profiling programs may adversely affect physician practice behaviors, empirical data supporting or refuting such claims were limited. Using a longitudinally linked national claims database, we found that since NY has enacted a profiling initiative, bypass surgery outcomes have improved markedly without any evidence that access to care has declined.
Effects on physician behavior
Before public release, NY’s provider-specific mortality data are risk-adjusted for potential differences in severity of illness using a validated risk-prediction model (5). State officials maintain that the model adequately compensates a surgeon for taking on higher-risk patients and, if anything, overcompensates for the highest-risk cases (6). Despite this contention, many critics of the program have asserted that surgeons’ natural reaction to having their outcomes monitored is to refer or refuse those patients with higher procedural risk (8,18).
Recently, Omoigui et al. (9)published a single-institution review supporting the contention that NY surgeons were transferring their highest risk patients out-of-state. The authors reported that there was an increase in both the number of patients and their disease severity transferred to the Cleveland Clinic from NY for bypass between 1989 and 1993 (n = 482). In contrast to these single-center results, when using a national database we found no evidence for a widespread increase in out-of-state transfers from NY for bypass surgery. In our study, out-of-state bypass procedures may have occurred in one of three general situations: patients living near NY’s state boarder who cross-over to a neighboring state for a procedure; patients who are away from home when the need for bypass surgery occurs (e.g., vacation, dual homesite); and patients who are specifically transferred out-of-state for bypass surgery. While the “basal rates” for the two former situations should be relatively constant, if physicians were transferring a significant number of higher-risk elderly patients out-of-state for bypass, the overall rate should have increased over time. In fact, NY elderly residents were actually less likelyto have their procedure performed outside NY after the profiling program was initiated. Additionally, while claims data provide only limited information on disease severity, we found no significant differences in age, gender, rates of acute MI or comorbid illness burden in NY residents receiving procedures out-of-state as compared with NY residents receiving in-state surgery. Given these national observations, it appears likely that the Cleveland Clinic’s experience was an exception resulting from particular local care patterns rather than the general rule.
New York’s provider profiling program may also have affected surgeons’ willingness to operate on higher-risk patients. While it is difficult to monitor changes in procedure access, we examined temporal trends in bypass surgery use among all elderly Medicare enrollees (Table 2)and among higher-risk elderly MI patients in NY (Fig. 2). Had NY surgeons become more conservative in their care, we would have expected to see a decline in bypass surgery use, particularly among these high-risk patients, corresponding to the initiation of the profiling program. Care patterns in the rest of the nation during this period served as a control for nonspecific changes. Consistent with previous studies, we noted that NY physicians used revascularization procedures less frequently in post-MI patients than physicians in other regions of the country (19,20). However, we also found that NY elderly high-risk MI patients were actually more likely to receive bypass surgery since the program’s initiation, mirroring national trends (Fig. 2). Thus, we were unable to detect systemic evidence for decreased access to bypass surgery in NY’s elderly since provider profiling began.
The most important measure of any quality improvement effort is its effect on patient outcomes. Hannan et al. (1)previously reported that overall unadjusted and risk-adjusted in-hospital mortality rates in NY have declined significantly between 1989 and 1992. Our study confirmed that overall unadjusted bypass mortality rates in NY Medicare patients declined significantly faster than the rest of the nation from 1987 to 1992, 33% vs. 19% (p < 0.01 for trend comparisons). Furthermore, this decline in mortality was most profound in NY between 1989 to 1992, after the initiation of the profiling efforts and during a period when national mortality averages declined only slightly (Fig. 3).
We also found that risk-adjusted surgical mortality in NY improved faster than almost all individual states between 1987 to 1992 (Fig. 4). As a result, NY had the lowest risk-adjusted mortality rate in the country in 1992. It is also interesting to note that the other area of the country which initiated a provider profiling program during similar time periods, northern New England, experienced significantly larger improvements in their surgical outcomes than other areas of the country (Fig. 4)(21,22).
These results contrast with those recently reported by Ghali et al. (11). They found that Massachusetts (a state without provider profiling) experienced significant improvements in surgical outcomes from 1990 to 1994. While our study confirmed that bypass mortality improved in Massachusetts (a 25% decline in unadjusted Medicare procedural mortality between 1987 to 1992), this decline was significantly less than that experienced by either NY or northern New England. In part these differences in study results may be due to differences in the years of study and patient inclusion criteria (our study included all bypass surgery cases, but was limited to the elderly, while theirs included all age patients, but was limited to certain diagnosis-related groups). Finally, even if bypass outcomes in Massachusetts improved to a similar degree as in NY and northern New England, this may represent a “spill-over” of the effect of the quality improvement programs (from NY and northern New England to Massachusetts) resulting from its geographic location directly between two areas with statewide profiling programs.
If provider profiling has led to improved outcomes, the mechanism by which this program works remains unclear. While public disclosure of outcomes scorecards could have affected patients’ or physicians’ surgical referral decisions, NY State officials have not found evidence for mass patients migration from high- to low-mortality hospitals since the public release of provider profiles (5). Additionally, our study demonstrated that northern New England (which does not publicly disclose its provider’s outcome rating) achieved similar improvements in surgical outcomes to those in NY (21,22). Alternatively, provider profiling outcomes data may have been used internally by hospitals and physician to motivate internal, individualized, quality improvement initiatives. For example, Chassin et al. (5)have reported that certain NY hospitals restricted operating privileges for surgeons with poor outcomes while other institutions have improved their management of unstable patients. Malenka and O’Connor (22)similarly reported that outcomes feedback has promoted provider-initiated quality improvement programs in northern New England.
While Medicare is currently the only data source available for examining national care trends, these data are limited in terms of the extent and accuracy of clinical information provided (23). This limitation prevented us from comparing fully risk-adjusted outcomes results. It is notable, however, that baseline characteristics for NY and U.S. non-NY bypass patients were strikingly similar, making significant differences in disease severity less likely. New York outcomes were also consistently better than nationwide outcomes after adjusting for available risk markers. Our results were limited to patients aged 65 years or older and may not reflect care patterns or outcomes in younger patients. However, we would have expected that if NY’s profiling efforts had adversely affected access to care, the higher-risk elderly would have experienced the largest decline in in-state procedures. Our results only reflect care through the end of 1992 and NY surgeons may have altered their practice patterns since then. Finally, we examined general trends in care and outcomes over time and cannot rule out isolated incidences of altered clinical behavior resulting from the profiling effort.
Since the enactment of NY State’s bypass surgery provider profiling, there has been an increase in the number and rate of bypass surgery procedures performed in NY (including a higher percentage of older patients, more acute MI patients and more comorbidity). We found no empirical evidence that NY residents were being forced to seek out-of-state bypass surgery, or that access to procedures had declined in high-risk elderly NY residents since the program’s initiation. Furthermore, mortality following bypass surgery has declined significantly faster in NY as compared with the rest of the nation. These data support NY’s provider profiling program as a potential means of improving patient outcomes while maintaining access to care.
☆ Supported by research grants HS-06503 and HS-05635 from the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Rockville, Maryland; and research grant HL-17670 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Bethesda, Maryland.
- Received November 19, 1997.
- Revision received June 2, 1998.
- Accepted June 12, 1998.
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