To determine the extent to which hospitals vary in the use of intensive care, and the proportion of variation attributable to differences in hospital practice that is independent of known patient and hospital factors.
Hospital discharge data in the State Inpatient Database for Maryland and Washington States in 2006.
Cross‐sectional analysis of 90 short‐term, acute care hospitals with critical care capabilities.
We quantified the proportion of variation in intensive care use attributable to hospitals using intraclass correlation coefficients derived from mixed‐effects logistic regression models after successive adjustment for known patient and hospital factors.
The proportion of hospitalized patients admitted to an intensive care unit () across hospitals ranged from 3 to 55 percent (median 12 percent; : 9, 17 percent). After adjustment for patient factors, 19.7 percent (95 percent : 15.1, 24.4) of total variation in use across hospitals was attributable to hospitals. When observed hospital characteristics were added, the proportion of total variation in intensive care use attributable to unmeasured hospital factors decreased by 26–14.6 percent (95 percent : 11, 18.3 percent).
Wide variability exists in the use of intensive care across hospitals, not attributable to known patient or hospital factors, and may be a target to improve efficiency and quality of critical care.