Comparison of three different methods for risk adjustment in neonatal medicine

Adams, M. et al. BMC Pediatrics | Published online: 17 April 2017

Background: Quality improvement in health care requires identification of areas in need of improvement by comparing processes and patient outcomes within and between health care providers. It is critical to adjust for different case-mix and outcome risks of patient populations but it is currently unclear which approach has higher validity and how limitations need to be dealt with. Our aim was to compare 3 approaches towards risk adjustment for 7 different major quality indicators in neonatal intensive care (21 models).

Conclusions: All three approaches to risk adjustment revealed comparable results. The limited effect of risk adjustment on clinic comparisons indicates a small case-mix influence on observed outcomes, but also a limited ability to isolate quality improvement potential based on risk-adjustment models. Rather than relying on methodological approaches, we instead recommend that clinics build small collaboratives and compare their indicators both in risk-adjusted and unadjusted form together. This allows qualitatively investigating and discussing the residual risk-differences within networks. The predictive validity should be quantified and reported and stratification into risk groups should be more widely used to correct for confounding.

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