We evaluated the ability of the diagnosis-related—group (DRG) classification system to account adequately for severity of illness and, by implication, for the costs of medical care. Hospital inpatients on medicine, surgery, obstetrics/gynecology, and pediatrics services in six hospitals were evaluated to provide a spectrum of patient and hospital characteristics. This evaluation was based on data from a generic index of severity of illness obtained by trained personnel from a review of hospital charts after patient discharge. Within each DRG, substantial differences were found in the distribution of severity of illness in different hospitals. Some hospitals treated larger proportions of severely ill patients and had a wide range of severity within each DRG, but these differences did not always agree with the teaching classification or the Health Care Financing Administration's case-mix index. These findings suggest that patient classification by means of unadjusted DRGs does not adequately reflect severity of illness, and they indicate that prospective payment programs based on DRGs alone may unfairly and adversely discriminate against certain hospitals. (N Engl J Med 1985; 313:20–4.).
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