Background: Previous studies suggest that patients with heart failure (HF) treated by cardiologists have improved outcomes compared with patients treated by other physicians. It remains unclear whether these findings reflect differences in patient characteristics, processes of care, practice setting, or a combination of these factors.
Methods: We examined physician specialty-related differences in processes of care and clinical outcomes for 7,634 patients newly hospitalized for HF in Ontario, Canada, who were included in the EFFECT study between April 2004 and March 2005. Patients were categorized according to whether they received cardiologist, generalist (e.g., internist or family doctor), or generalist care with cardiology consultation.
Results: Multivariable hierarchical modeling demonstrated that patients treated by generalists alone had higher risk of 30-day (odds ratio [OR] 1.50, 95% CI 1.18-1.91) and 1-year mortality (OR 1.29, 95% CI 1.10-1.50), as well as the 1-year composite outcome of death and readmission, compared with patients treated by cardiologists. These differences were significantly attenuated if patients who had "do not resuscitate" orders were excluded. Patients who had a cardiologist involved in their care were more likely to undergo diagnostic procedures, such as echocardiography, and had higher rates of certain evidence-based pharmacologic therapy such as β-blockers.
Conclusion: Physician specialty-related differences in HF outcomes appear to reflect a combination of both case-mix differences and differences in the use of certain heart failure processes of care. These findings suggest that it may be possible to improve HF outcomes in patients receiving care from generalist physicians.
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