Most tests of the practice-makes-perfect hypothesis have used cross-sectional data, which reveal that patients receiving surgery in high-volume hospitals tend to experience better postsurgery outcomes. This study uses longitudinal data to explicitly examine whether any given hospital's patient outcomes change as its surgery volume varies with time.
Longitudinal data from all hospitals conducting hip fracture surgery in Quebec between 1990 and 1993 were used to examine the relationship between surgery volume and outcomes. The longitudinal data allowed volume to be measured using the actual number of surgeries performed by the admitting hospital in the 12 months before a patient's surgery. Determinants of postsurgery length of stay were assessed using ordinary least squares regression, and the explanators of inpatient mortality were identified using logistic regression. The regressions included fixed effects (hospital-specific dummy variables) to control for systematic differences in outcomes across hospitals that persist with time. Therefore, the coefficient on hip fracture surgery volume in the regression models captured differences in outcomes that were attributable to changes in surgery volume within hospitals with time.
The fixed effects were significant explanators of both postsurgery length of stay and inpatient mortality, indicating that there were significant differences in outcomes across hospitals that persisted with time. In regressions that excluded the fixed effects, the coefficient on surgery volume was significant. In contrast, the coefficient on surgery volume was insignificant when the fixed effects were included.
Longitudinal data revealed that after controlling for differences in hospital outcomes that were fixed with time, hospitals performing more surgeries in one period than in another experienced no significant improvement in outcomes. These results do not support the "practice makes perfect" hypothesis. The volume-outcome relationship for hip fracture patients thus appears to reflect fixed differences in quality between high-volume and low-volume hospitals.