Hallie Prescott
Hallie Prescott

Risk-Adjusting Mortality in the Nationwide Veterans Affairs Healthcare System

Journal of General Internal Medicine 1/13/22

Background: The US Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system began reporting risk-adjusted mortality for intensive care (ICU) admissions in 2005. However, while the VA’s mortality model has been updated and adapted for risk-adjustment of all inpatient hospitalizations, recent model performance has not been published. We sought to assess the current performance of VA’s 4 standardized mortality models: acute care 30-day mortality (acute care SMR-30); ICU 30-day mortality (ICU SMR-30); acute care in-hospital mortality (acute care SMR); and ICU in-hospital mortality (ICU SMR).

Methods: Retrospective cohort study with split derivation and validation samples. Standardized mortality models were fit using derivation data, with coefficients applied to the validation sample. Nationwide VA hospitalizations that met model inclusion criteria during fiscal years 2017-2018(derivation) and 2019 (validation) were included. Model performance was evaluated using c-statistics to assess discrimination and comparison of observed versus predicted deaths to assess calibration.

Results: Among 1,143,351 hospitalizations eligible for the acute care SMR-30 during 2017-2019, in-hospital mortality was 1.8%, and 30-day mortality was 4.3%. C-statistics for the SMR models in validation data were 0.870 (acute care SMR-30); 0.864 (ICU SMR-30); 0.914 (acute care SMR); and 0.887 (ICU SMR). There were 16,036 deaths (4.29% mortality) in the SMR-30 validation cohort versus 17,458 predicted deaths (4.67%), reflecting 0.38% over-prediction. Across deciles of predicted risk, the absolute difference in observed versus predicted percent mortality was a mean of 0.38%, with a maximum error of 1.81% seen in the highest-risk decile.

Conclusions and relevance: The VA’s SMR models, which incorporate patient physiology on presentation, are highly predictive and demonstrate good calibration both overall and across risk deciles. The current SMR models perform similarly to the initial ICU SMR model, indicating appropriate adaption and re-calibration.