BMJ Open 2:e001729 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001729
  • Health services research
    • Research

Trends in Canadian hospital standardised mortality ratios and palliative care coding 2004–2010: a retrospective database analysis

  1. M Elizabeth Wilcox5
  1. 1Section of General Internal Medicine, Lakeridge Health Oshawa, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3Division of Gastroenterology, University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4Division of Hepatology and Gastroenterology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  5. 5Interdepartmental Division of Critical Care Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Christopher AKY Chong; caky.chong{at}
  • Received 26 June 2012
  • Accepted 27 September 2012
  • Published 5 November 2012


Background The hospital standardised mortality ratio (HSMR), anchored at an average score of 100, is a controversial macromeasure of hospital quality. The measure may be dependent on differences in patient coding, particularly since cases labelled as palliative are typically excluded.

Objective To determine whether palliative coding in Canada has changed since the 2007 national introduction of publicly released HSMRs, and how such changes may have affected results.

Design Retrospective database analysis.

Setting Inpatients in Canadian hospitals from April 2004 to March 2010.

Patients 12 593 329 hospital discharges recorded in the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) Discharge Abstract Database from April 2004 to March 2010.

Measurements Crude mortality and palliative care coding rates. HSMRs calculated with the same methodology as CIHI. A derived hospital standardised palliative ratio (HSPR) adjusted to a baseline average of 100 in 2004–2005. Recalculated HSMRs that included palliative cases under varying scenarios.

Results Crude mortality and palliative care coding rates have been increasing over time (p<0.001), in keeping with the nation's advancing overall morbidity. HSMRs in 2008–2010 were significantly lower than in 2004–2006 by 8.55 points (p<0.001). The corresponding HSPR rises dramatically between these two time periods by 48.83 points (p<0.001). Under various HSMR scenarios that included palliative cases, the HSMR would have at most decreased by 6.35 points, and may have even increased slightly.

Limitations Inability to calculate a definitively comparable HSMR that include palliative cases and to account for closely timed changes in national palliative care coding guidelines.

Conclusions Palliative coding rates in Canadian hospitals have increased dramatically since the public release of HSMR results. This change may have partially contributed to the observed national decline in HSMR.

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