Background: The management of heart failure (HF) by cardiologists may be better than that of other physicians in that cardiologists' treatment choices more frequently conform with published guidelines and the results of clinical trials. Whether cardiologists' management of HF is more or less cost-effective is up for debate.
Methods: Information on all 1995 New York state hospital discharges assigned ICD-9-CM codes indicative of HF in the principal diagnosis position was obtained. Demographic and clinical characteristics, process of care, resource utilization, and short-term HF-related outcomes were compared between patients of cardiologists and patients of other physicians.
Results: A total of 44,926 patients were identified, with 10,506 (23%) receiving care from cardiologists, 28,300 (63%) from internists, 4812 (11%) from family practitioners, and 1308 (3%) from other physicians. Patients of cardiologists were younger, more frequently male, and less frequently residents of nursing homes. They were more likely to have associated cardiovascular diagnoses but less likely to have comorbid general medical conditions. Patients of cardiologists were more likely to undergo cardiac catheterization (9%) than those of internists (3%) and family practice (2%) physicians but had similar adjusted hospital length of stay and charges. Mortality and hospital readmission rates for HF were similar among the groups. Patients in the "other" group (managed mostly by surgeons) were the youngest, underwent more invasive and cardiac surgical procedures, and had the longest length of stay and highest hospital charges.
Conclusions: Cardiologists' management of HF is not economically disadvantageous. The relations among physician specialty, process of care, resource utilization, and clinical outcomes require further study before rational and evidence-based health care staffing recommendations can be formulated.