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What is the role of selection bias in quality comparisons between the Veterans Health Administration and community care? Example of elective hernia surgery.

Mull HJ, Kabdiyeva A, Ndugga N, Gordon SH, Garrido MM, Pizer SD. What is the role of selection bias in quality comparisons between the Veterans Health Administration and community care? Example of elective hernia surgery. Health services research. 2023 Jun 1; 58(3):654-662.

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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the relationship between community care (CC) treatment and a postoperative surgical complication in elective hernia surgery among Veterans using multiple approaches to control for potential selection bias. DATA SOURCES AND STUDY SETTING: Veterans Health Administration (VHA) data sources included Corporate Data Warehouse (VHA encounters and patient data), the Program Integrity Tool and Fee tables (CC encounters), the Planning Systems Support Group (geographic information), and the Paid file (VHA primary care providers). STUDY DESIGN: Prior works suggest patient outcomes are better in VHA than in CC settings; however, these studies may not have appropriately accounted for the selection of higher-risk cases into CC. We estimated (1) a naïve logistic regression model to calculate the effect of CC setting on the probability of a complication, controlling for facility fixed effects and patient and procedure characteristics, and (2) a 2-stage model using the hernia patient''s primary care provider''s 1-year prior CC referral rate as the instrument. DATA COLLECTION: We identified patients residing = 40?miles from a VHA surgical facility with elective VHA or CC hernia surgery from 2018 to 2019. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Of 7991 hernia surgeries, 772 (9.7%) were in CC. The overall complication rate was 4.2%; 286/7219 (4.0%) among VHA surgeries versus 51/5772 (6.6%, p? < 0.05) in CC. We observed a 2.8 percentage point increase in the probability of postoperative complication given CC surgery (95% confidence interval: 0.7, 4.8) in the naïve model. After accounting for the VHA provider''s historical rate of CC referral, we no longer observed a relationship between surgery setting and risk of postoperative complication. CONCLUSIONS: After accounting for the selection of higher-risk patients to CC settings, we found no difference in hernia surgery postoperative complications between CC and VHA. Future VHA and non-VHA comparisons should account for unobserved as well as observed differences in patients seen in each setting.

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