Risk-Adjusted In-Hospital Death Rates for Peer Hospitals in Rural and Urban Regions

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1-1-1999


The purpose of this research project was to compare inpatient mortality rates for rural hospitals with mortality rates of urban hospitals of given sizes and ranges of service. Statistical adjustments for risk were made in the probability of death during hospitalization for 43,000 patients across 166 hospitals by age, gender, principal diagnosis, principal surgical procedure, characteristics of the secondary diagnoses, and whether or not cancer was a secondary diagnosis. Eighty-three small hospitals that had a relatively unspecialized range of services constituted the study group. Patient characteristics of this study group were moderately representative of the national population. A standardized score was calculated for each hospital using a formula based on the actual hospital death rate and the death rate expected for a given hospital with patients of the same demographic and medical characteristics. Patients admitted to hospitals in nonmetropolitan areas had a mortality rate of 0.41 percent compared with a mortality rate of 0.66 percent in peer hospitals in metropolitan areas. After mortality rates were risk-adjusted and converted to z scores, nonmetropolitan areas had an average z of +0.16, and metropolitan areas had an average z of -0.25, where positive z scores reflect a lower-than-average adjusted mortality rate. The metropolitan-nonmetropolitan (urban-rural) difference was not statistically significant, but it is meaningful in that rural hospitals tended to have a lower adjusted mortality rate than urban hospitals of the same size and type, indicating that rural hospitals had the same or lower adjusted mortality rates. The possibility of urban hospitals having riskier patients was minimized but could not be definitively ruled out. Taken together with other studies, the data are consistent with the view that small rural hospitals generally make appropriate transfer decisions for severely ill patients and provide quality care for retained patients.