Background: Geographic variations in the use of hospital services are associated with differences in the availability of hospital beds. There continues to be uncertainty about the extent to which unmeasured case-mix differences explain these findings. Previous research showed that the number of occupied beds per capita in Boston was substantially higher than the number of occupied beds per capita in New Haven, Connecticut, and that overall rates of hospital utilization were higher for Boston residents than for New Haven residents.
Methods: We used Medicare claims data to study cohorts of Medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age or older and residing in Boston or New Haven who were initially hospitalized for one of five indications (acute myocardial infarction, stroke, gastrointestinal bleeding, hip fracture, or potentially curative surgery for breast, colon, or lung cancer). Residents of Boston or New Haven who were discharged between October 1, 1987, and September 30, 1989, were enrolled in the cohort corresponding to the earliest such admission and followed for up to 35 months.
Results: The relative rate of readmission in Boston as compared with New Haven was 1.64 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.53 to 1.76) for all cohorts combined, with a similarly elevated rate for each of the five clinical cohorts and each age, sex, and race subgroup examined. Hospital-specific readmission rates varied substantially among the hospitals in Boston and were higher than those in New Haven. No relation was found between mortality (during the first 30 days after discharge or over the entire study period) and either community or hospital-specific readmission rates.
Conclusions: Regardless of the initial cause of the admission, Medicare beneficiaries who were initially hospitalized in Boston had consistently higher rates of readmission than did Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized in New Haven. Differences in the severity of illness are unlikely to explain these findings. One possible explanation is a threshold effect of hospital-bed availability on decisions to admit patients.