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April 4, 2012

Finding Pure and Simple Truths With Administrative Data

JAMA. 2012;307(13):1433-1435. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.404

The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.—Oscar Wilde

Administrative data have been used to assess quality of care and variations in health care delivery for nearly 3 decades. Indeed, administrative data have provided important insights on racial disparities in care,1 geographic differences in utilization,2 and variations in outcomes across hospitals.3 In the absence of national clinical registries, administrative data will continue to be an important source of information about health care delivery in the United States because of their ready availability, low cost, and ability to span multiple years and health care settings. Moreover, in contrast to data from randomized controlled trials, administrative data reflect real-world treatment settings and unselected populations. However, users must be aware of the inherent limitations of administrative data to avoid erroneous conclusions.

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