Background: Comparison of outcomes between populations or centres may be confounded by any casemix differences and standardisation is carried out to avoid this. However, when the casemix adjustment models are large and complex, direct standardisation has been described as "practically impossible", and indirect standardisation may lead to unfair comparisons. We propose a new method of directly standardising for risk rather than standardising for casemix which overcomes these problems.
Methods: Using a casemix model which is the same model as would be used in indirect standardisation, the risk in individuals is estimated. Risk categories are defined, and event rates in each category for each centre to be compared are calculated. A weighted sum of the risk category specific event rates is then calculated. We have illustrated this method using data on 6 million admissions to 146 hospitals in England in 2007/8 and an existing model with over 5000 casemix combinations, and a second dataset of 18,668 adult emergency admissions to 9 centres in the UK and overseas and a published model with over 20,000 casemix combinations and a continuous covariate.
Results: Substantial differences between conventional directly casemix standardised rates and rates from direct risk standardisation (DRS) were found. Results based on DRS were very similar to Standardised Mortality Ratios (SMRs) obtained from indirect standardisation, with similar standard errors.
Conclusions: Direct risk standardisation using our proposed method is as straightforward as using conventional direct or indirect standardisation, always enables fair comparisons of performance to be made, can use continuous casemix covariates, and was found in our examples to have similar standard errors to the SMR. It should be preferred when there is a risk that conventional direct or indirect standardisation will lead to unfair comparisons.