To describe patterns in ambulatory care sensitive (ACS) admissions at the zip code level based on zip code demographic and other characteristics. These patterns include trends over time, persistence within zip codes over time, and variation between and within socioeconomic strata.
New York State hospital discharge data 1990–1998, U.S. census data 1990, and New York State birth records 1990.
Age‐ and sex‐adjusted rates and volumes of ACS admissions are calculated at the zip code level. Descriptive statistics are analyzed cross‐sectionally and over time. Kernel density functions are estimated across income strata. Ordinary and quantile regression techniques are used to determine the impact of socioeconomic variables on average and extreme values of the distribution of ACS admission rates.
Ambulatory care sensitive admissions rates declined during the study period but in conjunction with a greater decline in overall admission rates. Thus, as a percentage of total admissions, they actually rose by 4 percent. Ambulatory care sensitive admissions are geographically concentrated and rates are highly persistent within zip codes over time. Even on a log scale ACS admissions are typically greater and exhibit more variability among low‐income zip codes. Other variables positively associated with ACS admissions are total population, births to unwed mothers (a proxy for family structure), black population, Hispanic population, and the number of non‐ACS admissions. Births to immigrant mothers (a proxy for immigrant population) are negatively associated with ACS admissions.
The concentration and persistence of ACS admissions point to a chronic, geographically limited deficiency of primary ambulatory care in the most underserved neighborhoods. Much of the difference in preventable hospitalization levels between high‐ and low‐income areas is driven by very high volumes in the low‐income areas unrelated to population density. New York data suggest that most costs from preventable hospitalizations could be saved by focusing on targeted neighborhoods. Socioeconomic and area utilization variables play a role in both average and extreme values of the rate of preventable hospitalizations at the zip code level. Since variables that affect the average volume of preventable hospitalizations can change the distribution of that volume, analysis based on averages alone may be inadequate. The findings on area demographics and non‐ACS admissions point to the need to better understand social and cultural issues as well as local admitting practice patterns to encourage appropriate and efficient use of the health care delivery system.