Small-area variation in hospital discharge rates. Do socioeconomic variables matter?

Med Care. 1989 May;27(5):507-21. doi: 10.1097/00005650-198905000-00006.


Although numerous studies have been made of the determinants of small-area variation in hospital discharge rates, there is still disagreement about the role of socioeconomic factors. The lack of consensus stems, in part, from the difficulty in comparing results across studies that use different units and methods of analysis. Many of the studies using well-defined hospital service areas did not have the data needed to conduct a controlled analysis of the determinants of hospital utilization. Most of the studies that have performed controlled analyses have relied on larger geopolitical areas, which are not believed to capture self-contained health care systems. The study described here used a consistent set of data, three methods of analysis, and two units of analysis to test the importance of socioeconomic characteristics in explaining the variation in medical and surgical discharge rates in Michigan. Socioeconomic factors are found to be statistically significant determinants of the variation in both medical and surgical discharge rates, whether the method of analysis is simple correlations or multiple regressions, and whether the unit of analysis is the county or a well-designed hospital service area. These results suggest that previous small-area variation studies may have incorrectly concluded that socioeconomic characteristics do not explain differences in utilization rates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data
  • Michigan
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Socioeconomic Factors