Mortality rates after heart transplantation: How to compare center-specific outcome data?

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Background. Studies of outcome in cardiac transplantation have focused primarily on identifying patient- and donor-related factors associated with patient mortality. Less consideration has been given to the impact of the transplant center. This study was undertaken to assess variability in heart transplantation outcome in Eurotransplant centers to provide a framework for auditing.Methods and Results. In a 2-year period, 1,401 adult patients underwent heart transplantation in 45 centers. The 1-year patient survival rate was 76% (95% CI, 74%–78%) with a range of 0% to 100% at the center level. The risk-adjusted center effect on mortality was estimated by calculating a standardized difference between the observed number of deaths 1 year after transplantation and the expected number of deaths based on the case mix. By assessing within- and between-center variations with empirical Bayes (EB) methods, after adjustment for all registered prognostic factors, an improved estimate of the true center effect was obtained. Compared with the standard risk-adjusted center effect method, fewer outlying centers were identified with the EB method.Conclusion. EB methods, because they are known to incorporate more information from the data, enable a more precise and realistic portrayal of heart transplant centers’ performances, compared with other risk-adjusted center effect methods. In the context of auditing procedures, EB methods should preferably be used for the identification of centers that deviate significantly from quality standards.

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