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Identifying Possible Indicators of Systematic Overuse of Health Care Procedures With Claims Data

Segal, Jodi B. MD, MPH*,†; Bridges, John F.P. PhD; Chang, Hsien-Yen PhD; Chang, Eva MPH; Nassery, Najlla MD, MPH*; Weiner, Jonathan PhD; Chan, Kitty S. PhD

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000052
Brief Report

Background: Health care quality is frequently described with measures representing the overall performance of a health care system. Despite the growing attention to overuse of health care resources, there is little experience with aggregate measures of overuse.

Objective: To identify a set of possible indicators of overuse that can be operationalized with claims data and to describe variation in these indicators across the hospital referral regions (HRRs).

Design: Using an environmental scan, we identified published descriptions of overused procedures. We assessed each procedure’s feasibility for measurement with claims and developed algorithms for occurrences of procedures in patients unlikely to benefit. Using a 5% sample of Medicare claims from 2008, we calculated summary statistics to illustrate variance in the use across HRRs.

Results: A total of 613 procedures were identified as overused; 20 had abundant frequency and variance to be possible measures of systematic overuse. These included 13 diagnostic tests, 2 tests for screening, 1 for monitoring, and 4 therapeutic procedures. The usage varied markedly across HRRs. For illustration, 1 HRR used computed tomography for rhinosinusitis diagnosis in 80 of 1000 beneficiaries (mean usage across HRRs was 14/1000). Among 1,451,142 beneficiaries, 14% had at least one overuse event (range, 8.4%–27%).

Conclusions: We identified a set of overused procedures that may be used as measures of overuse and that demonstrate significant variance in their usage. The implication is that an index of overuse might be built from these indicators that would reveal systematic patterns of overuse within regions. Alternatively, these indicators may be valuable in the quality improvement efforts.

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*Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supported by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant no. 68270).

Reprints: Jodi B. Segal, MD, MPH, 624N. Broadway, Room 644, Baltimore, MD 21205. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.