Adherence to methodological standards in research using the National Inpatient Sample

Rohan Khera, Suveen Angraal, Tyler Couch, John W. Welsh, Brahmajee K. Nallamothu, Saket Girotra, Paul S. Chan, Harlan M. Krumholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

449 Scopus citations


IMPORTANCE: Publicly available data sets hold much potential, but their unique design may require specific analytic approaches. OBJECTIVE: To determine adherence to appropriate research practices for a frequently used large public database, the National Inpatient Sample (NIS) of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: In this observational study of the 1082 studies published using the NIS from January 2015 through December 2016, a representative sample of 120 studies was systematically evaluated for adherence to practices required by AHRQ for the design and conduct of research using the NIS. EXPOSURES: None. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: All studies were evaluated on 7 required research practices based on AHRQ’s recommendations and compiled under 3 domains: (1) data interpretation (interpreting data as hospitalization records rather than unique patients); (2) research design (avoiding use in performing state-, hospital-, and physician-level assessments where inappropriate; not using nonspecific administrative secondary diagnosis codes to study in-hospital events); and (3) data analysis (accounting for complex survey design of the NIS and changes in data structure over time). RESULTS: Of 120 published studies, 85% (n = 102) did not adhere to 1 or more required practices and 62% (n = 74) did not adhere to 2 or more required practices. An estimated 925 (95% CI, 852-998) NIS publications did not adhere to 1 or more required practices and 696 (95% CI, 596-796) NIS publications did not adhere to 2 or more required practices. A total of 79 sampled studies (68.3% [95% CI, 59.3%-77.3%]) among the 1082 NIS studies screened for eligibility did not account for the effects of sampling error, clustering, and stratification; 62 (54.4% [95% CI, 44.7%-64.0%]) extrapolated nonspecific secondary diagnoses to infer in-hospital events; 45 (40.4% [95% CI, 30.9%-50.0%]) miscategorized hospitalizations as individual patients; 10 (7.1% [95% CI, 2.1%-12.1%]) performed state-level analyses; and 3 (2.9% [95% CI, 0.0%-6.2%]) reported physician-level volume estimates. Of 27 studies (weighted; 218 studies [95% CI, 134-303]) spanning periods of major changes in the data structure of the NIS, 21 (79.7% [95% CI, 62.5%-97.0%]) did not account for the changes. Among the 24 studies published in journals with an impact factor of 10 or greater, 16 (67%) did not adhere to 1 or more practices, and 9 (38%) did not adhere to 2 or more practices. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this study of 120 recent publications that used data from the NIS, the majority did not adhere to required practices. Further research is needed to identify strategies to improve the quality of research using the NIS and assess whether there are similar problems with use of other publicly available data sets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2011-2018
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association
Issue number20
StatePublished - Nov 28 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Adherence to methodological standards in research using the National Inpatient Sample'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this