Background: Previous studies suggest that specialty care is more costly but may produce improved outcomes for patients with acute cardiac illnesses.
Objective: To determine whether patients with congestive heart failure who are cared for by cardiologists experienced differences in costs, care patterns, and survival compared with patients of generalists.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: 5 U.S. teaching hospitals between 1989 and 1994.
Patients: 1298 patients hospitalized with an exacerbation of congestive heart failure.
Measurements: Hospital costs; average daily Therapeutic Intervention Scoring System (TISS) score; and survival censored at 30, 180, and 365 days and 31 December 1994.
Results: Compared with patients of generalists, patients of cardiologists were younger (mean age, 63.3 and 71.4 years; P < 0.001) and had lower Acute Physiology Scores at the time of admission (35.1 and 36.7; P < 0.001) but were more likely to have a history of ventricular arrhythmias (21.0% and 10.2%; P < 0.001). At 6 months, 201 (27%) patients of cardiologists and 149 (27%) patients of generalists had died. After adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics and severity of illness, patients of cardiologists incurred costs that were 42.9% (95% CI, 27.8% to 59.8%) higher and average daily TISS scores that were 2.83 points (CI, 1.96 to 3.68 points) higher than those of patients of generalists. Patients of cardiologists were more likely to undergo right-heart catheterization (adjusted odds ratio, 2.9 [CI, 1.7 to 4.9]) or cardiac catheterization (adjusted odds ratio, 3.9 [CI, 2.4 to 6.2]) and had higher odds for transfer to an intensive care unit and electrocardiographic monitoring. Adjusted survival did not differ significantly between groups at 30 days; however, there was a trend toward improved survival among patients of cardiologists at 1 year (adjusted relative hazard, 0.82 [CI, 0.65 to 1.04]) and at maximum follow-up (adjusted relative hazard, 0.80 [CI, 0.66 to 0.96]).
Conclusions: In this observational study of patients hospitalized with congestive heart failure, cardiologist care was associated with greater costs and resource use and no difference in survival at 30 days of follow-up. Whether the trend toward better survival at longer follow-up represents differences in care or unadjusted illness severity is uncertain.