Background: Patients with chest pain thought to be due to acute coronary ischemia are typically taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. The potential benefit of field triage directly to a hospital that treats a large number of patients with myocardial infarction is unknown. Methods We conducted a retrospective cohort study of the relation between the number of Medicare patients with myocardial infarction that each hospital in the study treated (hospital volume) and long-term survival among 98,898 Medicare patients 65 years of age or older. We used proportional-hazards methods to adjust for clinical, demographic, and health-system-related variables, including the availability of invasive procedures, the specialty of the attending physician, and the area of residence of the patient (rural, urban, or metropolitan). Results The patients in the quartile admitted to hospitals with the lowest volume were 17 percent more likely to die within 30 days after admission than patients in the quartile admitted to hospitals with the highest volume (hazard ratio, 1.17; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.09 to 1.26; P<0.001), which resulted in 2.3 more deaths per 100 patients. The crude mortality rate at one year was 29.8 percent among the patients admitted to the lowest-volume hospitals, as compared with 27.0 percent among those admitted to the highest-volume hospitals. There was a continuous inverse dose-response relation between hospital-volume and the risk of death. In an analysis of subgroups defined according to age, history of cardiac disease, Killip class of infarction, presence or absence of contraindications to thrombolytic therapy, and time from the onset of symptoms, survival at high- volume hospitals was consistently better than at low-volume hospitals. The availability of technology for angioplasty and bypass surgery was not independently associated with overall mortality. Conclusions Patients with acute myocardial infarction who are admitted directly to hospitals that have more experience treating myocardial infarction, as reflected by their case volume, are more likely to survive than are patients admitted to low-volume hospitals.
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