Is referral source a risk factor for coronary surgery? Health maintenance organization versus fee-for-service system

A. Starr, A. P. Furnary, G. L. Grunkemeier, G. W. He, A. Ahmad, T. A. Pfeffer, R. M. Engelman, R. P. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We began performing coronary artery bypass grafting for a large health maintenance organization (HMO) in 1974, as the sole provider of their cardiac surgery. The outcomes of our HMO group of patients were compared with those of our patients treated on a fee-for-service (FFS) basis. The HMO system entails preintervention and multidisciplinary screening conferences and is devoid of self-referral and personal financial incentives. Since 1985, the operative mortality for HMO patients has been consistently lower than for FFS patients. There were 8483 operations during this study period: 3168 (37%) were in the HMO group, with an overall operative mortality of 2.7%, and 5315 (63%) were in the FFS group, with an operative mortality of 4.6% (p = 0.00002). This difference was investigated with univariate and multivariable analyses. Sixteen factors were found to univariately affect the risk of operative mortality; for five of these risk correlates there was a significant maldistribution between the HMO and FFS patients. Logistic regression was used to explore the influence of this imbalance in risk factors. The model found seven independent risk factors (left ventricular failure, emergency coronary bypass, redo bypass, nonuse of the internal thoracic artery, unstable angina, age, and diabetes) that significantly affected operative mortality. The FFS group variable closely approached independent risk significance at p = 0.059. This multivariable model explained only one third of the observed differences in actual mortality between the HMO and FFS groups. The system-wide angioplasty/coronary bypass ratio, which could not be used in a patient-specific model, was 0.6 in the HMO system and 1.5 in the FFS group. Other factors related to the operating structure of a mature, large HMO may account for the remainder of the difference. The HMO referral system, through a powerful selection process, resulted in fewer emergencies, redo bypass operations, and catheterization complications that, in turn, yielded lower operative mortality than a noncoordinated FFS system of cardiovascular management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)708-717
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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