To improve outcomes after parathyroidectomy, several organizations advocate for selective referral of patients to high-volume academic medical centers with dedicated endocrine surgery programs. The major factors that influence whether patients travel away from their local community and support system for perceived better care remain elusive.
To assess how race/ethnicity and insurance status influence domestic travel patterns and selection of high- vs low-volume hospitals in different regions of the United States for parathyroid surgery.
Design, Setting, and Participants
A retrospective study was conducted of 36 750 inpatients and outpatients discharged after undergoing parathyroidectomy identified in the University HealthSystem Consortium database from January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2014 (12 quarters total). Each US region (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Central Plains, Southeast, Gulf Coast, and West) contained 20 or more low-volume hospitals (1-49 cases annually), 5 or more mid-volume hospitals (50-99 cases annually), and multiple high-volume hospitals (≥100 cases annually). Domestic medical travelers were defined as patients who underwent parathyroidectomy at a hospital in a different US region from which they resided and traveled more than 150 miles to the hospital.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Distance traveled, regional destination, and relative use of high- vs low-volume hospitals.
A total of 23 268 of the 36 750 patients (63.3%) had parathyroidectomy performed at high-volume hospitals. The mean (SD) age of the study cohort was 71.5 (16.2) years (95% CI, 71.4-71.7 years). The female to male ratio was 3:1. Throughout the study period, mean (SD) distance traveled was directly proportional to hospital volume (high-volume hospitals, 208.4 [455.1] miles; medium-volume hospitals, 50.5 [168.4] miles; low-volume hospitals, 27.7 [89.5] miles; P < .001). From 2012 to 2014, the annual volume of domestic medical travelers increased by 15.0% (from 961 to 1105), while overall volume increased by 4.9% (from 11 681 to 12 252; P = .03). Nearly all (2982 of 3113 [95.8%]) domestic medical travelers had surgery at high-volume hospitals, and most of these patients (2595 of 3113 [83.4%]) migrated to hospitals in the Southeast. Domestic medical travelers were significantly more likely to be white (2888 of 3113 [92.8%]; P < .001) and have private insurance (1934 of 3113 [62.1%]; P < .001). Most patients with private insurance (12 137 of 17 822 [68.1%]) and Medicare (9433 of 15 121 [62.4%]) had surgery at high-volume hospitals, while the largest proportion of patients with Medicaid and those who were uninsured had surgery at low-volume hospitals (1059 of 2715 [39.0%]).
Conclusions and Relevance
Centralization of parathyroid surgery is a reality in the United States. Significant disparities based on race and insurance coverage exist and may hamper access to the highest-volume surgeons and hospitals. Academic medical centers with dedicated endocrine surgery programs should consider strategic initiatives to reduce disparities within their respective regions.