Study objectives: Severity of illness, treatment choices, and clinical outcomes may vary with physician training. This study was performed to determine whether such differences exist among patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) treated by cardiologists and by noncardiologists in the community hospital setting.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Ten acute-care community hospitals. PATIENTS, MEASUREMENTS, AND RESULTS: Two thousand four hundred fifty-four patients with CHF were identified and followed up for 6 months after hospital discharge. Patients who were not treated by a cardiologist (group I; n = 977) were compared with patients whose attending physician was a cardiologist (group II; n = 419) and patients who received consultative care from a cardiologist (group III; n = 1,058). When compared with group I patients, group II patients were more likely to receive the recommended diagnostic tests and treatment strategies, although some of these differences could be explained by variations in the case mix. Group II patients had higher hospital charges, but lower CHF readmission rates and better postdischarge quality-of-life measures. No differences in adjusted mortality rates were observed.
Conclusions: In the community-hospital setting, the clinical practices of cardiologists are more compatible with published treatment guidelines than the clinical practices of other physicians. The benefits of cardiology specialty care include lower CHF readmission rates and better postdischarge quality-of-life measures, rather than lower mortality rates, fewer hospital charges, or shorter length of stay.