Open Access Open Badges Research article

Shared component modelling as an alternative to assess geographical variations in medical practice: gender inequalities in hospital admissions for chronic diseases

Berta Ibáñez-Beroiz1, Julián Librero-López2, Salvador Peiró-Moreno3 and Enrique Bernal-Delgado2*

Author Affiliations

1 Centro de Investigación Biomédica (CIB). Navarra, Spain

2 Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Aragón. Zaragoza. Spain

3 Centro Superior de Investigación en Salud Pública (CSISP). Valencia. Spain

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:172  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-172

Published: 21 December 2011



Small area analysis is the most prevalent methodological approach in the study of unwarranted and systematic variation in medical practice at geographical level. Several of its limitations drive researchers to use disease mapping methods -deemed as a valuable alternative. This work aims at exploring these techniques using - as a case of study- the gender differences in rates of hospitalization in elderly patients with chronic diseases.


Design and study setting: An empirical study of 538,358 hospitalizations affecting individuals aged over 75, who were admitted due to a chronic condition in 2006, were used to compare Small Area Analysis (SAVA), the Besag-York-Mollie (BYM) modelling and the Shared Component Modelling (SCM). Main endpoint: Gender spatial variation was measured, as follows: SAVA estimated gender-specific utilization ratio; BYM estimated the fraction of variance attributable to spatial correlation in each gender; and, SCM estimated the fraction of variance shared by the two genders, and those specific for each one.


Hospitalization rates due to chronic diseases in the elderly were higher in men (median per area 21.4 per 100 inhabitants, interquartile range: 17.6 to 25.0) than in women (median per area 13.7 per 100, interquartile range: 10.8 to 16.6). Whereas Utilization Ratios showed a similar geographical pattern of variation in both genders, BYM found a high fraction of variation attributable to spatial correlation in both men (71%, CI95%: 50 to 94) and women (62%, CI95%: 45 to 77). In turn, SCM showed that the geographical admission pattern was mainly shared, with just 6% (CI95%: 4 to 8) of variation specific to the women component.


Whereas SAVA and BYM focused on the magnitude of variation and on allocating where variability cannot be due to chance, SCM signalled discrepant areas where latent factors would differently affect men and women.