BACKGROUND - Rural/urban variations in admissions for heart failure may be influenced by severity at hospital presentation and local practice patterns. Laboratory data reflect clinical severity and guide hospital admission decisions and treatment for heart failure, a costly chronic illness and a leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly. Our main objective was to examine the role of laboratory test results in measuring disease severity at the time of admission for inpatients who reside in rural and urban areas.
METHODS - We retrospectively analyzed discharge data on 13,998 hospital discharges for heart failure from three states, Hawai'i, Minnesota, and Virginia. Hospital discharge records from 2008 to 2012 were derived from the State Inpatient Databases of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, and were merged with results of laboratory tests performed on the admission day or up to two days before admission. Regression models evaluated the relationship between clinical severity at admission and patient urban/rural residence. Models were estimated with and without use of laboratory data.
RESULTS - Patients residing in rural areas were more likely to have missing laboratory data on admission and less likely to have abnormal or severely abnormal tests. Rural patients were also less likely to be admitted with high levels of severity as measured by the All Patient Refined Diagnosis Related Groups (APR-DRG) severity subclass, derivable from discharge data. Adding laboratory data to discharge data improved model fit. Also, in models without laboratory data, the association between urban compared to rural residence and APR-DRG severity subclass was significant for major and extreme levels of severity (OR 1.22, 95% CI 1.03-1.43 and 1.55, 95% CI 1.26-1.92, respectively). After adding laboratory data, this association became non-significant for major severity and was attenuated for extreme severity (OR 1.12, 95% CI 0.94-1.32 and 1.43, 95% CI 1.15-1.78, respectively).
CONCLUSION - Heart failure patients from rural areas are hospitalized at lower severity levels than their urban counterparts. Laboratory test data provide insight on clinical severity and practice patterns beyond what is available in administrative discharge data.