Children in Lebanon, New Hampshire, are more than twice as likely to have their tonsils removed as those in Bangor, Maine. Kids in Lewiston, Maine, are 50 percent more likely to have a CT scan of their head than are kids in Portland, Maine, or Lebanon and Burlington, Vermont.
Lebanon's children don't have especially infection-prone tonsils, and Lewiston's don't fall on their heads more than kids elsewhere do. Instead, according to a report released on Wednesday, the glaring variation means that in some cases "children are not receiving enough good care," said pediatrician and health policy analyst Dr David Goodman of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University, who led the study for the Dartmouth Atlas Project. But in other cases they "may be receiving unnecessary care that is harmful."
Similar research from the project has shown that the rate of medical procedures performed on older Americans covered by Medicare varies enormously depending on where they live.
The new report, which focused on northern New England, is the first to show that geographic variability exists in children's healthcare, too, raising questions about why tens of thousands of kids are not receiving recommended care such as screening for lead poisoning and why tens of thousands of others are subjected to potentially unneeded treatments such as CTs for stomachaches.
The Dartmouth Atlas was able to examine geographic variations in the medical care provided to children in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont from 2007 to 2010 because those states are among the few that collect data on all health insurance claims, which the researchers analyzed.
"This suggests that there is a significant amount of overuse of medical services in some areas," said Dr Vikas Saini, a cardiologist and president of the Lown Institute, a healthcare think tank in Boston. "Especially because unneeded care can expose children to harmful side effects, this is very troubling."
Image: Child having throat exam, via Shutterstock