In the Literature: Research You Need to Know


Clinical question: What is the current level of continuity of care, and what factors affect continuity of care in the hospital setting? Has this changed with increasing use of hospitalists and limits on residency duty hours?

Background: Outpatient continuity of care leads to lower costs, better quality of life, and less emergency room use. Recent changes in residency hours have increased hand-offs and decreased inpatient continuity, but to what extent is unknown.

Study design: Retrospective cohort of 5% of Medicare claims data (530,000 patients in all) from 1996 to 2006, including patients admitted for COPD, congestive heart failure, or pneumonia who were cared for by a general internist or family practitioner.

Setting: Nationwide in the U.S.

Synopsis: The authors defined patients as having a primary-care physician (PCP) if they had three billed visits with the PCP in the last year, hospitalists as those who derived at least 90% of their Medicare claims from inpatient billing, and other generalists as those who met criteria as a generalist but did not fit these categories. Inpatient continuity of care decreased to 59% of patients seeing a single physician in the hospital in 2006 from 71% in 1996, with an accompanying decrease in the length of stay of one full day. There were large variations by geographic region, population size, and hospital characteristics. Patients cared for by hospitalists had slightly better continuity of care than those cared for by nonhospitalist generalists, and those who were cared for by both hospitalists and nonhospitalist generalists had the worst continuity of care. Having a PCP was associated with increased discontinuity of care as an inpatient, perhaps because of individual members of a practice rounding on all of the practice’s inpatients.

Bottom line: Patients were 5% less likely per year between 1996 and 2006 to have a single physician be their primary caregiver in the hospital, but the rise of the hospitalist movement does not seem to be the cause.

Citation: Fletcher KE, Sharma G, Zhang D, Kuo YF, Goodwin JS. Trends in inpatient continuity of care for a cohort of Medicare patients 1996-2006. J Hosp Med. 2011;6:441-447.

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