Background: Whether specialty care improves survival among patients with heart failure remains controversial.
Methods: We evaluated specialty care and outcomes in 25869 Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with heart failure in the United States from 1998 through 1999. Patients were classified based on the specialty of their attending physician: cardiologist, internist, general physician, or family physician. The primary outcome of interest was all-cause mortality within 30 days of admission.
Results: Cardiologists were attending physicians for 26%, internists for 50%, and general and family physicians cared for the remainder. Mortality at 30 days was lowest for patients cared for by cardiologists (8.8%), higher for patients cared for by internists (10.0%, relative risk [RR] = 1.07; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.97 to 1.19; P = 0.059) and general physicians (11.1%, RR = 1.26; 95% CI: 0.99 to 1.58; P = 0.086), and highest for patients cared for by family physicians (12.0%, RR = 1.31; 95% CI: 1.15 to 1.49; P <0.001). Patients cared for by family physicians remained at higher 30-day mortality rates whether with (RR = 1.30; 95% CI: 1.11 to 1.52) or without consultation with cardiologists (RR = 1.31; 95% CI: 1.13 to 1.52).
Conclusion: Hospitalized patients with heart failure had lower 30-day mortality when treated by cardiologists than when they were treated by other physicians. Although these differences were modest (RR = 1.07) for internists, they were substantial for general physicians (RR = 1.26) and family physicians (RR = 1.31); of note was that inpatient cardiology consultation did not appear to change this relation.