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Editor's Note
June 2015

The Role of Post–Acute Care in Variation in the Medicare Program

JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(6):1058. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0679

Variation is frequently cited as evidence of unnecessary or wasteful health care, because we would expect a patient’s medical condition, not geography or health care professional, to dictate who receives a particular procedure or service. Understanding how much variation is owing to regions vs providers within regions can help in devising strategies to reduce variation.

A 2013 Institute of Medicine report5 found that differences in individual provider and hospital practices explained variation more than did regional patterns. Hussey, a member of that Institute of Medicine committee, and colleagues1 analyze in depth some of the Medicare data on variation in their article. They find that conditions that more frequently involved post–acute care explained much of the variation by region. Post–acute care refers to a wide range of services, which include skilled nursing facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, home health aides, outpatient physical and occupational therapy, and long-term care facilities. For example, joint replacement of a lower extremity had more than 4 times as much regional variation as conditions that do not generally involve post–acute care, such as gastrointestinal bleeding. The association of post–acute care with the variation seen by Hussey et al is consistent with a 2011 report2 from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that found that use of post–acute care services explained the largest portion of Medicare variation at the metropolitan statistical-area level.

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