Your Doc Is Away? Substitute Doctors a Safe Option, Study Finds

From Drugs.com - December 5, 2017

Your Doc Is Away? Substitute Doctors a Safe Option, Study Finds

TUESDAY, Dec. 5, 2017 -- When the regular hospital doctor is out, the white-coated physician treating you may very well be a "temp."

The good news: Patients cared for by substitute doctors do not have a higher risk of death.

But they do tend to have longer stays and higher costs, a new study finds.

"Our findings so far are reassuring," said study senior author Dr. Anupam Jena, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Traditionally, when a regular staff doctor was away or sick, hospitals relied on one of the doctor's colleagues to pitch in.

Today, hospitals in the United States increasingly turn to for-hire temporary physicians from anywhere in the country. But Jena said there has been little research into how that affects patient care.

In this study, investigators analyzed 1.8 million Medicare hospital admissions between 2009 and 2014. Nearly 40,000 involved care by substitute doctors. The researchers found that 1 in 10 regular staff doctors was replaced by a "sub."

Death rates within a month of hospital admission were nearly identical -- 8.8 percent among patients treated by substitute physicians and 8.7 percent among patients seen by regular staff doctors.

However, patients who received care from subs did have slightly longer hospital stays and somewhat higher costs, although the differences were small.

"Some of the trends we found demand that we look more closely at how the system works in a more granular way," Jena said in a Harvard news release.


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