Background: Many believe that variation in vascular practice may affect limb salvage rates in patients with severe peripheral arterial disease. However, the extent of variation in procedural vascular care obtained by patients with critical limb ischemia (CLI) remains unknown.
Methods and results: By using Medicare 2003 to 2006 data, we identified all patients with CLI who underwent major lower extremity amputation in the 306 hospital referral regions described in the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare. For each patient, we studied the use of lower extremity vascular procedures (open surgery or endovascular intervention) in the year before amputation. Our main outcome measure was the intensity of vascular care, defined as the proportion of patients in the hospital referral region undergoing a vascular procedure in the year before amputation. Overall, 20,464 patients with CLI underwent major lower extremity amputations during the study period, and collectively underwent 25,800 vascular procedures in the year before undergoing amputation. However, these procedures were not distributed evenly: 54% of patients had no vascular procedures performed in the year before amputation, 14% underwent 1 vascular procedure, and 32% underwent >1 vascular procedure. In the regions in the lowest quintile of vascular intensity, vascular procedures were performed in 32% of patients. Conversely, in the regions in the highest quintile of vascular intensity, revascularization was performed in 58% of patients in the year before amputation (P<0.0001). In analyses accounting for differences in age, sex, race, and comorbidities, patients in high-intensity regions were 2.4 times as likely to undergo revascularization in the year before amputation than patients in low-intensity regions (adjusted odds ratio, 2.4; 95% CI, 2.1-2.6; P<0.001).
Conclusions: Significant variation exists in the intensity of vascular care provided to patients in the year before major amputation. In some regions, patients receive intensive care, whereas in other regions, far less vascular care is provided. Future work is needed to determine the association between intensity of vascular care and limb salvage.