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Open Access Open Badges Research article

A comparison between the APACHE II and Charlson Index Score for predicting hospital mortality in critically ill patients

Susan Quach1, Deirdre A Hennessy12, Peter Faris1, Andrew Fong1, Hude Quan1 and Christopher Doig12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2 Department of Critical Care Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:129  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-129

Published: 30 July 2009



Risk adjustment and mortality prediction in studies of critical care are usually performed using acuity of illness scores, such as Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II (APACHE II), which emphasize physiological derangement. Common risk adjustment systems used in administrative datasets, like the Charlson index, are entirely based on the presence of co-morbid illnesses. The purpose of this study was to compare the discriminative ability of the Charlson index to the APACHE II in predicting hospital mortality in adult multisystem ICU patients.


This was a population-based cohort design. The study sample consisted of adult (>17 years of age) residents of the Calgary Health Region admitted to a multisystem ICU between April 2002 and March 2004. Clinical data were collected prospectively and linked to hospital outcome data. Multiple regression analyses were used to compare the performance of APACHE II and the Charlson index.


The Charlson index was a poor predictor of mortality (C = 0.626). There was minimal difference between a baseline model containing age, sex and acute physiology score (C = 0.74) and models containing either chronic health points (C = 0.76) or Charlson index variations (C = 0.75, 0.76, 0.77). No important improvement in prediction occurred when the Charlson index was added to the full APACHE II model (C = 0.808 to C = 0.813).


The Charlson index does not perform as well as the APACHE II in predicting hospital mortality in ICU patients. However, when acuity of illness scores are unavailable or are not recorded in a standard way, the Charlson index might be considered as an alternative method of risk adjustment and therefore facilitate comparisons between intensive care units.