Background: Patterns in time, place and cause of death can have an important impact on calculated hospital mortality rates. Objective is to quantify these patterns following myocardial infarction and stroke admissions in Dutch hospitals during the period 1996-2003, and to compare trends in the commonly used 30-day in-hospital mortality rates with other types of mortality rates which use more extensive follow-up in time and place of death.
Methods: Discharge data for all Dutch admissions for index conditions (1996-2003) were linked to the death certification registry. Then, mortality rates within the first 30, 90 and 365 days following admissions were analyzed for deaths occurring within and outside hospitals.
Results: Most deaths within a year after admission occurred within 30 days (60-70%). No significant trends in this distribution of deaths over time were observed. Significant trends in the distribution over place of death were observed for both conditions. For myocardial infarction, the proportion of deaths after transfer to another hospital has doubled from 1996-2003. For stroke a significant rise of the proportion of deaths outside hospital was found. For MI the proportion of deaths attributed to a circulatory disease has significantly fallen overtime. Seven types of hospital mortality indicators, different in scope and observation period, all show a drop of hospital mortality for both MI and stroke over the period 1996-2003. For stroke the observed absolute reduction in death rate increases for the first year after admission, for MI the observed drop in 365-day overall mortality almost equals the observed drop in 30-day in hospital mortality over 1996-2003.
Conclusion: Changes in the timing, place and causes of death following admissions for myocardial infarction and stroke have important implications for the definitions of in-hospital and post-admission mortality rates as measures of hospital performance. Although necessary for understanding mortality patterns over time, including within mortality rates deaths which occur outside hospitals and after longer periods following index admissions remain debatable and may not reflect actual hospital performance but probably mirrors transfer, efficiency, and other health care policies.