Objective: To examine whether patients admitted for treatment of a myocardial infarction (MI) who live farther from their source of care are less likely to be followed in an outpatient clinic, and whether patients who receive follow-up care are less likely to die or to have a subsequent acute care admission.
Data source: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) databases to identify a national sample of 4,637 MI patients discharged in 1992, their use of care, and vital status within the subsequent year. Sociodemographics, comorbid diagnoses, invasive cardiac procedures, hospital teaching status, and distance to patients' admitting hospital were determined.
Study design: Using these longitudinal data, we examined the relationship between patient characteristics, distance to care, and use of outpatient care after discharge. We then examined the relationship between the use of ambulatory care and subsequent death and readmission.
Principal findings: Patients living more than 20 miles from their admitting hospital were less likely to use ambulatory services. Patients receiving ambulatory care were 79 percent as likely to die within the year as those without any follow-up care (95% C.I. = 0.66, 0.94). Patients living more than 20 miles from their admitting hospital were more likely to die independent of their likelihood of receiving VA outpatient follow-up. Among patients who did not die in the subsequent year, those receiving ambulatory care were 33 percent more likely to be readmitted to a VA hospital with a cardiac diagnosis (95% C.I. = 1.12, 1.57).
Conclusions: Distance may pose a barrier to outpatient follow-up for some VA patients after a MI. It also may limit patients' ability to access medical care quickly in the event of a recurrent acute event. Ambulatory care after discharge may be an important factor determining survival for patients with cardiac disease.