Hospital mortality rates: how is palliative care taken into account?

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010 Dec;40(6):914-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2010.07.005. Epub 2010 Oct 29.


Context: Using mortality rates to measure hospital quality presumes that hospital deaths are medical failures. To be a fair measure of hospital quality, hospital mortality measures must take patient-level factors, such as goals of care, into account.

Objectives: To answer questions about how hospital mortality rates are computed and how the involvement of hospice or palliative care (PC) are recognized and handled.

Methods: We analyzed the methods of four entities: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services "Hospital Compare;" U.S. News & World Report "Best Hospitals;" Thomson-Reuters "100 TopHospitals;" and HealthGrades.

Results: All entities reviewed rely on Medicare data, compute risk-adjusted mortality rates, and use "all-cause" mortality. They vary considerably in their recognition and handling of cases that involved hospice care or PC. One entity excludes cases with prior hospice care and another excludes those discharged to hospice at the end of the index hospitalization. Two entities exclude some or all cases that were coded with the V66.7 "Palliative Care Encounter" International Classification of Disease, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification diagnosis code.

Conclusion: Proliferation of, and variability among, hospital mortality measures creates a challenge for hospital administrators. PC and hospice leaders need to educate themselves and their hospital administrators about the extent to which these mortality rates take end-of-life care into account. At the national level, PC and hospice leaders should take advantage of opportunities to engage these mortality raters in conversation about possible changes in their methods and to conduct further research on this topic.

MeSH terms

  • Hospice Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • United States