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New report analyzes the use and potential for improvement of hospital discharge databases

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has published a new report, The Value of Hospital Discharge Databases, which focuses on the use and improvement of hospital discharge data and databases. This report is the culmination of an AHRQ-sponsored research project conducted by the National Opinion Research Council (NORC) and the National Association of Health Data Organizations (NAHDO).

Drawing from multiple sources of information—including an extensive review of published literature, Web sites, key informant interviews, and in-person meetings with representatives from State-wide data organizations (SDOs)—the report documents the ways in which hospital discharge databases are used and identifies ways to improve them. The study concludes that hospital discharge databases vary in their content and capacity for research and support a diverse set of constituents who use the data for a wide variety of applications and analyses, including:

  • Injury surveillance (e.g., tracking suicides and suicide attempts in North Carolina).
  • Public health and disease registries (e.g., examining the impact of motor vehicle exhaust and air quality on childhood asthma in Georgia).
  • Quality assessment and performance improvement (e.g., using a public report on coronary artery bypass graft surgery to justify changes in policies and clinical practices in Pennsylvania).
  • Policy deliberations and legislation (e.g., demonstrating to the State legislature that a bill mandating acceptance of all neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) transfers was unnecessary in Connecticut).

The report catalogs and analyzes the primary applications of hospital discharge data and outlines recommendations for developing databases in response to the unique needs of those who use the information. The report draws two central conclusions: one, there is a need for more comprehensive and linkable hospital discharge databases, and two, SDOs are in need of greater support as they develop their abilities in advanced analysis and reporting.

The Value of Hospital Discharge Databases is available online at

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