Background: Several studies suggest that hospitalists can improve costs or outcomes in academic medical centers, but almost all of these studies have nonrandom assignment of patients to hospitalists, and no multi-center studies exist. We studied patients assigned to hospitalist or non-hospitalist physicians based only on day of admission to determine the effects of hospitalists on outcomes and costs in 6 academic medical centers.
Methods: From July 2001 to June 2003, 31,891 general medicine inpatients were assigned to hospitalist or non-hospitalist physicians according to a predetermined daily call schedule. Patient interviews at admission and 1 month after discharge and administrative data were used to study effects on outcomes and costs.
Results: Twelve thousand and one patients were cared for by hospitalists and 19,890 by non-hospitalists. There were no statistically significant differences in age, race, gender, Charlson Index, or distribution of primary diagnosis between the 2 groups. There were no statistically significant differences in in-hospital mortality, 30-day readmission and emergency room use, 30-day self-reported health status, or patient satisfaction. Mortality data up to 1 year after admission are pending. Average length of stay was 0.05 days shorter for hospitalist patients but this difference was not statistically significant. Costs were also similar between the groups. Individual center analyses had large confidence intervals on outcomes and costs and failed to show statistically significant effects on any measure of outcomes or costs except for 1 of the larger centers, which had lower length of stay and costs for hospitalists.
Conclusions: Hospitalists had small effects on selected outcome measures available to date, but did not produce the large resource savings that had been suggested by some earlier studies. The effectiveness of hospitalists appeared to vary by site, but was difficult to assess due to limited statistical power for site-specific analyses. Understanding the factors, such as physician experience, that may influence the effectiveness of hospitalists is important for maximizing the efficacy of hospitalist programs, because effects on outcomes may be small, vary by site, and be difficult to distinguish from chance in a specific clinical setting.