Heterogeneity in COVID-19 patient volume, characteristics and outcomes across US Department of Veterans Affairs facilities: An observational cohort study

Dawn M. Bravata, Laura J. Myers, Anthony J. Perkins, Salomeh Keyhani, Ying Zhang, Alan J. Zillich, Andrew Dysangco, Reese Lindsey, Dev Sharmitha, Jennifer Myers, Charles Austin, Ali Sexson, Greg Arling

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Objective Studies describe COVID-19 patient characteristics and outcomes across populations, but reports of variation across healthcare facilities are lacking. The objectives were to examine differences in COVID-19 patient volume and mortality across facilities, and understand whether facility variation in mortality was due primarily to differences in patient versus facility characteristics. Design Observational cohort study with multilevel mixed effects logistic regression modelling. Setting The Veterans Health Administration (VA) is the largest healthcare system in the USA. Participants Patients with COVID-19. Main outcome All-cause mortality within 45 days after COVID-19 testing (March-May, follow-up through 16 July 2020). Results Among 13 510 patients with COVID-19, 3942 (29.2%) were admitted (2266/3942 (57.5%) ward; 1676/3942 (42.5%) intensive care unit (ICU)) and 679/3942 (17.2%) received mechanical ventilation. Marked heterogeneity was observed across facilities in median age (range: 34.3-83.9 years; facility mean: 64.7, SD 7.2 years); patient volume (range: 1-737 at 160 facilities; facility median: 48.5, IQR 14-105.5); hospital admissions (range: 1-286 at 133 facilities; facility median: 11, IQR 1-26.5); ICU caseload (range: 1-85 at 115 facilities; facility median: 4, IQR 0-12); and mechanical ventilation (range: 1-53 at 90 facilities; facility median: 1, IQR 0-5). Heterogeneity was also observed in facility mortality for all patients with COVID-19 (range: 0%-29.7%; facility median: 8.9%, IQR 2.4%-13.7%); inpatients (range: 0%-100%; facility median: 18.0%, IQR 5.6%-28.6%); ICU patients (range: 0%-100%; facility median: 28.6%, IQR 14.3%-50.0%); and mechanical ventilator patients (range: 0%-100%; facility median: 52.7%, IQR 33.3%-80.6%). The majority of variation in facility mortality was attributable to differences in patient characteristics (eg, age). Conclusions Marked heterogeneity in COVID-19 patient volume, characteristics and mortality were observed across VA facilities nationwide. Differences in patient characteristics accounted for the majority of explained variation in mortality across sites. Variation in unadjusted COVID-19 mortality across facilities or nations should be considered with caution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere044646
JournalBMJ open
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 8 2021


  • COVID-19
  • adult intensive & critical care
  • general medicine (see internal medicine)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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