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Background-: Computed tomographic (CT) scans are central diagnostic tests for ischemic stroke. Their inefficient use is a negative quality measure tracked by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Methods and Results-: We performed a retrospective analysis of Medicare fee-for-service claims data for adults admitted for ischemic stroke from 2008 to 2009, with 1-year follow-up. The outcome measures were risk-adjusted rates of high-intensity CT use (>=4 head CT scans) and risk- and price-adjusted Medicare expenditures in the year after admission. The average number of head CT scans in the year after admission, for the 327 521 study patients, was 1.94, whereas 11.9% had >=4. Risk-adjusted rates of high-intensity CT use ranged from 4.6% (Napa, CA) to 20.0% (East Long Island, NY). These rates were 2.6% higher for blacks than for whites (95% confidence interval, 2.1%-3.1%), with considerable regional variation. Higher fragmentation of care (number of different doctors seen) was associated with high-intensity CT use. Patients living in the top quintile regions of fragmentation experienced a 5.9% higher rate of high-intensity CT use, with the lowest quintile as reference; the corresponding odds ratio was 1.77 (95% confidence interval, 1.71-1.83). Similarly, 1-year risk- and price-adjusted expenditures exhibited considerable regional variation, ranging from $31 175 (Salem, MA) to $61 895 (McAllen, TX). Regional rates of high-intensity CT scans were positively associated with 1-year expenditures (r=0.56; P<0.01).

Conclusions-: Rates of high-intensity CT use for patients with ischemic stroke reflect wide practice patterns across regions and races. Medicare expenditures parallel these disparities. Fragmentation of care is associated with high-intensity CT use.

(C) 2014 American Heart Association, Inc.