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Novel tools for a learning health system: a combined difference-in-difference/regression discontinuity approach to evaluate effectiveness of a readmission reduction initiative


Current methods used to evaluate the effects of healthcare improvement efforts have limitations. Designs with strong causal inference—such as individual patient or cluster randomisation—can be inappropriate and infeasible to use in single-centre settings. Simpler designs—such as prepost studies—are unable to infer causal relationships between improvement interventions and outcomes of interest, often leading to spurious conclusions regarding programme success. Other designs, such as regression discontinuity or difference-in-difference (DD) approaches alone, require multiple assumptions that are often unable to be met in real world improvement settings. We present a case study of a novel design in improvement and implementation research—a hybrid regression discontinuity/DD design—that leverages risk-targeted improvement interventions within a hospital readmission reduction programme. We demonstrate how the hybrid regression discontinuity-DD approach addresses many of the limitations of either method alone, and represents a useful method to evaluate the effects of multiple, simultaneous heath system improvement activities—a necessary capacity of a learning health system. Finally, we discuss some of the limitations of the hybrid regression discontinuity-DD approach, including the need to assign patients to interventions based upon a continuous measure, the need for large sample sizes, and potential susceptibility of risk-based intervention assignment to gaming.

  • quality improvement methodologies
  • comparative effectiveness research
  • continuous quality improvement
  • health services research
  • implementation science

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