Screening for important unwarranted variation in clinical practice: a triple-test of processes of care, costs and patient outcomes

Andrew Partington, Derek Chew, David Ben-Tovim, Matthew Horsfall, Paul Hakendorf, Jonathan Karnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. Unwarranted variation in clinical practice is a target for quality improvement in health care, but there is no consensus on howto identify such variation or to assess the potential value of initiatives to improve quality in these areas. This study illustrates the use of a triple test, namely the comparative analysis of processes of care, costs and outcomes, to identify and assess the burden of unwarranted variation in clinical practice. Methods. Routinely collected hospital and mortality data were linked for patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of acute coronary syndromes at the emergency departments of four public hospitals in South Australia. Multiple regression models analysed variation in re-admissions and mortality at 30 days and 12 months, patient costs and multiple process indicators. Results. After casemix adjustment, an outlier hospital with statistically significantly poorer outcomes and higher costs was identified. Key process indicators included admission patterns, use of invasive diagnostic procedures and length of stay. Performance varied according to patients' presenting characteristics and time of presentation. Conclusions. The joint analysis of processes, outcomes and costs as alternative measures of performance inform the importance of reducing variation in clinical practice, as well as identifying specific targets for quality improvement along clinical pathways. Such analyses could be undertaken across a wide range of clinical areas to inform the potential value and prioritisation of quality improvement initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-110
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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