Abstract: Evaluating the relationship between health care costs and quality is paramount in the current health care economic climate, as an understanding of value is needed to drive policy decisions. While many policy analyses are focused on the larger health care system, there is a pressing need for surgically focused economic analyses. Surgical care is costly, and innovative technology is constantly introduced into the operating room, and surgical care impacts patients' short- and long-term physical and economic well-being. Unfortunately, significant knowledge gaps exist regarding the relationship between cost, value, and economic impact of surgical interventions. Despite the plethora of health care data available in the forms of claims databases, discharge databases, and national surveys, no single source of data contains all the information needed for every policy-relevant analysis of surgical care. For this reason, it is important to understand which data are available and what can be accomplished with each of the data sets. In this article, we provide an overview of databases commonly used in surgical health services research. We focus our review on the following five categories of data: governmental claims databases, commercial claims databases, hospital-based clinical databases, state and national discharge databases, and national surveys. For each, we present a summary of the database sampling frame, clinically relevant variables, variables relevant to economic analyses, strengths, weaknesses, and examples of surgically relevant analyses. This review is intended to improve understanding of the current landscape of data available, as well as stimulate novel analyses among surgical populations. Ongoing debates over national health policy reforms may shape the delivery of surgical care for decades to come. Appropriate use of available data resources can improve our understanding of the economic impact of surgical care on our health care system and our patients.
Level of evidence: Regular Review, Level V.
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