Background: Concerns over the rising costs of health care have increased interest in educating residents about the cost impact of medical decisions. While many programs educate residents about the effectiveness of care, little is known about how well residents and faculty know charges of diagnostic tests or both groups' interest in this topic.
Methods: We surveyed internal medicine residents and faculty at an academic tertiary care hospital. Both groups rated their agreement with a series of statements about health care charges on a Likert scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 9 (strongly agree), and they estimated the charges for 15 commonly ordered diagnostic tests. Estimates within 25% of the true charge were considered correct. The Wilcoxon rank sum test was used to compare responses between residents and faculty.
Results: Seventy of 126 eligible participants (56%) returned surveys. Participants showed poor knowledge of health care charges but expressed a desire to learn more. Physicians also felt that cost-effectiveness should be considered when ordering diagnostic tests, although faculty members felt more strongly about this than did residents. In estimating the charges for diagnostic tests, less than a quarter of all responses were within 25% of the true charge.
Conclusions: Internal medicine physicians poorly estimate the charges for diagnostic tests but have a strong desire to improve their knowledge, suggesting a possible intervention to improve the cost-effectiveness of medical care.