The sharing of a top-ranked cancer hospital brand across affiliate hospitals doesn’t necessarily guarantee the same quality of care, a new study suggests.
In a paper published in, researchers presented the outcomes of a cross-sectional study of 29,228 patients aged over 65 years who underwent complex cancer surgery at either 59 top-ranked hospitals or 343 affiliated hospitals.
The researchers saw a significant 40% higher 90-day mortality rate among patients who underwent complex cancer surgery at one of the affiliate hospitals, compared with those who were treated at the top-ranked hospitals (P less than .001), even after adjusting for factors such as age, comorbidity score, procedure type, and admission type.
“This is not entirely surprising, as affiliated hospitals are generally smaller, less likely to be teaching hospitals, and perform complex surgical procedures with less frequency (lower volume) when compared with top-ranked hospitals,” wrote Jessica R. Hoag, PhD, from the department of surgery at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., and her coauthors. However, including hospital characteristics in the models attenuated but did not eliminate the differences in mortality rates between top-ranked and affiliate hospitals.
The difference in 90-day mortality was particularly evident for gastrectomy, where there was a 100% higher 90-day mortality rate in affiliate hospitals, compared with top-ranked hospitals (P less than .001). The mortality rate for pancreaticoduodenectomy was 59% higher in affiliate hospitals, compared with top-ranked hospitals (P = .009); for colectomy it was 32% higher (P = .001), and for lobectomy it was 34% higher (P = .03).
The only procedure where the mortality rate was not statistically significantly different between top-ranked and affiliate hospitals was esophagectomy (odds ratio, 1.48; P = .06).
When the authors looked at standardized mortality ratios for the top-ranked and affiliate hospitals, they found that 41 of the 49 top-ranked hospitals had lower mortality ratios than their collective affiliates. In 37 cases, the difference in standardized mortality ratios between the top-ranked hospital and its affiliates was statistically significant.
Overall, 39 of the 49 top-ranked hospitals had better standardized mortality ratios than the national average, compared with 17 of the affiliated networks.
The authors wrote that their findings were important because previous studies showed affiliation status played a significant role in which hospital patients choose for their treatment.
“As a result, there is cause for concern that a proportion of the U.S. public could misinterpret brand sharing as indicating equivalent care,” they wrote, suggesting that one way to reduce mortality might therefore be to direct patients with the most risky and complex surgical requirements to top-ranked hospitals rather than affiliates, although acknowledged this might be challenging to implement.
One author reported receiving funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, one reported advisory board and steering committee positions with the private medical sector, and one reported receiving nonfinancial support from private industry outside the submitted work. No other conflicts of interest were reported.
SOURCE: Hoag JR et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Apr 12. .