The effect of geographic origin and destination on congenital heart disease outcomes: a retrospective cohort study

Spencer M. Millen*, Cara H. Olsen, Ryan P. Flanagan, John S. Scott, Craig P. Dobson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a common and significant birth defect, frequently requiring surgical intervention. For beneficiaries of the Department of Defense, a new diagnosis of CHD may occur while living at rural duty stations. Choice of tertiary care center becomes a function of geography, referring provider recommendations, and patient preference. Methods: Using billing data from the Military Health System over a 5-year period, outcomes for beneficiaries age < 10 years undergoing CHD surgery were compared by patient origin (rural versus urban residence) and the distance to treatment (patient’s home and the treating tertiary care center). These beneficiaries include children of active duty, activated reserves, and federally activated National Guard service members. Analysis of the outcomes were adjusted for procedure complexity risk. Treatment centers were further stratified by annual case volume and whether they publicly reported results in the society of thoracic surgery (STS) outcomes database. Results: While increasing distance was associated with the cost of admission, there was no associated risk of inpatient mortality, one year mortality, or increased length of stay. Likewise, rural origination was not significantly associated with target outcomes. Patients traveled farther for STS-reporting centers (STS-pr), particularly high-volume centers. Such high-volume centers (> 50 high complexity cases annually) demonstrated decreased one year mortality, but increased cost and length of stay. Conclusions: Together, these findings contribute to the national conversation of rural community medicine versus regionalized subspecialty care; separation of patients between rural areas and more urban locations for initial CHD surgical care does not increase their mortality risk. In fact, traveling to high volume centers may have an associated mortality benefit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number99
JournalBMC Cardiovascular Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Congenital heart disease (CHD)
  • Distance
  • Rural
  • Rurality
  • Society of thoracic surgery (STS)
  • Urban


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