The Pen and the Scalpel
Effect of Diffusion of Information on Nonclinical Variations in Surgical Treatment
Published In: Medical Care, v. 47, no. 7, July 2009, p. 749-757
Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008
BACKGROUND As information is disseminated about best practices, variations in patterns of care should diminish over time. OBJECTIVE: To test the hypotheses that differences in rates of a surgical procedure are associated with type of insurance in an era of evolving practice guidelines and that insurance and site differences diminish with time as consensus guidelines disseminate among the medical community. METHODS: We use lymph node dissection among women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) as an example of a procedure with uncertain benefit. Using a sample of 1051 women diagnosed from 1985 through 2000 at 2 geographic sites, we collected detailed demographic, clinical, pathologic, and treatment information through abstraction of multiple medical records. We specified multivariate logistic models with flexible functions of time and time interactions with insurance and treatment site to test hypotheses. RESULTS: Lymph node dissection rates varied significantly according to site of treatment and insurance status after controlling for clinical, pathologic, treatment, and demographic characteristics. Rates of lymph node dissection decreased over time, and differences in lymph node dissection rates according to site and generosity of insurance were no longer significant by the end of the study period. CONCLUSIONS: We have demonstrated that rates of a discretionary surgical procedure differ according to nonclinical factors, such as treatment site and type of insurance, and that such unwarranted.