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Center for Policy Research

Policy Brief

Variations Among Regions and Hospitals in Managing Chronic Illness: How Much Care Is Enough?

John E. Wennberg

C.P.R. Policy Brief No. 34

June 2006

Abstract

Classic epidemiology looks at what happens to people who live in a defined region over time. For example, birth rate, the number of births that occur among populations over a year, is a common statistics that we're all familiar with. Since the early 1990s the author and his colleagues have conducted research at Dartmouth Medical School to convert that classic epidemiologic perspective into looking at what is happening in terms of the health care system itself. They ask how much care people are getting in different regions of the country. They want to know the patterns of that care. And they want to get into the causes of so-called unwarranted variation, that is, differences that cannot be explained on the basis of patient illness, the dictates of scientific medicine, or the preferences of patients. Those three key words--illness, preference, and science--ultimately don't explain very much of the variation we see.

The author and his colleagues began the Dartmouth Atlas Project in 1993 as a study of health care markets in the United States, measuring variations in health care resources and their utilization among geographic areas. In recent years, they have expanded their research agenda to include the resources and utilization among patients at specific hospitals. They use very large claims databases from the Medicare program and other sources to define where people go for medical care, what kind of care they receive, and whether increasing investments in health care resources and their use result in better health outcomes.

Sponsored by the The Herbert Lourie Memorial Lecture series, which is jointly sponsored by Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the Central New York Community Foundation, Inc., and is administered by the Center for Policy Research and The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion.

The Center for Policy Research Policy Brief series is a collection of essays on current public policy issues in aging; urban and regional studies; education finance and accountability; public finance; social welfare, poverty, and income security; and related research done by or on behalf of the Center for Policy Research at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.


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