Is Higher Volume in the Direct-Care Setting Associated with Fewer Complications?

Research Paper Title

Is the current referral trend a threat to the Military Health System? Perioperative outcomes and costs after colorectal surgery in the Military Health System versus civilian facilities.

Background

TRICARE military beneficiaries are increasingly referred for major surgeries to civilian hospitals under “purchased care.” This loss of volume may have a negative impact on the readiness of surgeons working in the “direct-care” setting at military treatment facilities and has important implications under the volume-quality paradigm.

The objective of this study is to assess the impact of care source (direct versus purchased) and surgical volume on perioperative outcomes and costs of colorectal surgeries.

Methods

The researchers examined TRICARE claims and medical records for 18- to 64-year-old patients undergoing major colorectal surgery from 2006 to 2015.

They used a retrospective, weighted estimating equations analysis to assess differences in 30-day outcomes (mortality, readmissions, and major or minor complications) and costs (index and total including 30-day post-surgery) for colorectal surgery patients between purchased and direct care.

Results

The researchers included 20,317 patients, with 24.8% undergoing direct-care surgery. Mean length of stay was 7.6 vs 7.7 days for direct and purchased care, respectively (P = .24).

Adjusted 30-day odds between care settings revealed that although hospital readmissions (odds ratio 1.40) were significantly higher in direct care, overall complications (odds ratio 1.05) were similar between the 2 settings. However, mean total costs between direct and purchased care differed ($55,833 vs $30,513, respectively).

Within direct care, mean total costs ($50,341; 95% confidence interval $41,509-$59,173) were lower at very high-volume facilities compared to other facilities ($54,869; 95% confidence interval $47,822-$61,916).

Conclusions

Direct care was associated with higher odds of readmissions, similar overall complications, and higher costs.

Contrary to common assumptions regarding volume and quality, higher volume in the direct-care setting was not associated with fewer complications.

Reference

Haag, A., Nabi, J., Herzog, P., Kwon, N.K., Marchese, M., Fields, A., Wun, J., Friedlander, D.F., Cone, E.B. & Trinh, Q-D. (2021) Is the current referral trend a threat to the Military Health System? Perioperative outcomes and costs after colorectal surgery in the Military Health System versus civilian facilities. Surgery. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2020.12.019. Online ahead of print.

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