Association of Practitioner Interfacility Triage Performance With Outcomes for Severely Injured Patients With Fee-for-Service Medicare Insurance

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ImportanceDespite evidence that treatment of severely injured patients at trauma centers is associated with reduced mortality, nearly half of all such patients are treated at nontrauma centers (undertriaged). Little is known about whether interfacility undertriage occurs because of practitioner decision-making or institutional and regional factors.ObjectivesTo assess the associations between variation in triage practitioners at nontrauma centers and between practitioner-level variation and patient outcomes after injury.Design, Setting, and ParticipantsThis retrospective cohort study used Medicare claims data from severely injured patients presenting to nontrauma centers and the practitioners who evaluated them in the emergency department from January 1, 2010, to October 15, 2015. Data analysis was performed from January 15, 2018, to March 21, 2019.Main Outcomes and MeasuresProportion of variation in undertriage associated with practitioners, practitioner rates of undertriage, practitioner characteristics associated with undertriage, and 30-day case-fatality rate.ResultsA total of 124 008 severely injured patients (mean [SD] age, 81 [8.4] years; 67 253 [54.2%] female) and the 25 376 practitioners (5564 [21.9%] female) who evaluated the patients in the emergency department of nontrauma centers were included in the study. Undertriage occurred among 85 403 patients (68.9%), with 40.6% of total variation associated with practitioners, 37.8% with hospitals, and 6.7% with regions. Compared with physicians with National Provider Identification (NPI) enumeration before 2007, those with an NPI enumerated between 2007 and 2010 had an undertriage risk ratio (RR) of 0.98 (95% CI, 0.97-0.99), and those with an NPI enumerated after 2010 had an undertriage RR of 0.96 (95% CI, 0.94-0.99). Hospitals with neurosurgeons had an undertriage RR of 1.51 (95% CI, 1.45-1.57) compared with those that did not; hospitals with spine surgeons had an undertriage RR of 1.10 (95% CI, 1.06-1.13); hospitals with general surgeons had an undertriage RR of 1.13 (95% CI, 1.09-1.17). Compared with practitioners who undertriaged 25% or less of patients, a statistically significant increase was found in the odds of death for patients treated by practitioners with a triage rate of less than 25% to 50% (odds ratio [OR], 1.08; 95% CI, 1.05-1.20) and less than 50% to 75% undertriage (OR, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.09-1.26) but not undertriage at greater than 75% (OR, 1.03, 95% CI, 1.00-1.18). In sensitivity analyses to adjust for unmeasured confounding, the association between triage practices and the case fatality rate became monotonic; compared with patients treated by practitioners with an undertriage rate of 25% or less, the odds of case fatality were 1.13 (95% CI, 1.05-1.21; P = .001) among patients treated by practitioners with undertriage rates less than 25% to 50%, 1.22 (95% CI, 1.13-1.32; P < .001) for patients treated by practitioners with undertriage rates less than 50% to 75%, and 1.20 (95% CI, 1.10-1.30; P < .001) for patients treated by practitioners with undertriage rates greater than 75%.Conclusions and RelevanceThe findings suggest that individual practitioner practices are an important source of variation in triage and represent a potential locus of intervention to reduce preventable deaths after injury.

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