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Avoidable mortality: what it means and how it is measured

  • Economics
  • Medicine


We explore in this research paper the concept of avoidable mortality and how the way it is measured has evolved over time. Starting from an earlier review by Nolte and McKee (2004), we review the empirical studies which have been produced since then. Finally we appraise the empirical applications of the most recent literature. The concept of “avoidable mortality” refers, broadly speaking, to all those deaths that, given current medical knowledge and technology, could be avoided by the healthcare system through either prevention and/or treatment. It originates from the pioneering work by Rutstein, Berenberg et al. (1976) which introduced the notion of 'unnecessary untimely deaths' as a new way to measuring the quality of medical care. The most recent empirical literature shows that the notion of avoidable mortality continues to be used to establish the extent to which people are dying from amenable conditions within and/or across countries and over time, and whether socio-economic status and ethnicity are related to mortality from amenable conditions. Most studies use data taken from national death registries, with only two which link the concept of avoidable mortality to routinely collected administrative data of healthcare provision, such as hospitals. A number of criticisms are raised, with probably the most remarkable being the lack of association found between avoidable mortality and healthcare inputs. No study has actually attempted to use the concept of avoidable mortality within the original aim envisaged by Rutstein, i.e. as a quality indicator of healthcare provision. We recommend for future work in this area to focus on investigating the link between the provision of healthcare and the concept of avoidable mortality, with a particular emphasis on using routinely collected administrative data, such as hospital discharge data.

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