County socioeconomic characteristics and heart transplant outcomes in the United States

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Abstract

Background

Geographic disparities in survival after heart transplantation have received mixed support in prior studies, and specific geographic characteristics that might be responsible for these differences are unclear. We tested for differences in heart transplant outcomes across United States (US) counties after adjustment for individual-level covariates. Our secondary aim was to evaluate whether specific county-level socioeconomic characteristics explained geographic disparities in survival.

Methods

Data on patients aged ≥18 years undergoing a first-time heart transplant between July 2006 and December 2014 were obtained from the United Network for Organ Sharing. Residents of counties represented by <5 patients were excluded. Patient survival (censored in March 2016) was analyzed using multivariable Cox regression. Shared frailty models were used to test for residual differences in overall all-cause mortality across counties after adjusting for recipient and donor characteristics. Measures of county economic disadvantage, inequality, and racial segregation were obtained from US Census data and coded into quintiles. A likelihood ratio test determined whether adjusting for each county measure improved the fit of the Cox model.

Results

Multivariable analysis of 10,879 heart transplant recipients found that, adjusting for individual-level characteristics, there remained statistically significant variation in mortality hazard across US counties (P = .004). Adjusting for quintiles of community disadvantage, economic inequality, or racial segregation did not significantly improve model fit (likelihood ratio test P = .092, P = .273, and P = .107, respectively) and did not explain residual differences in patient survival across counties.

Conclusions

Heart transplantation outcomes vary by county, but this difference is not attributable to county-level socioeconomic disadvantage.

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