Importance: While the relationship between resident work hours and patient safety has been extensively studied, little research has evaluated the role of attending physician supervision on patient safety.
Objective: To determine the effect of increased attending physician supervision on an inpatient resident general medical service on patient safety and educational outcomes.
Design, setting, and participants: This 9-month randomized clinical trial performed on an inpatient general medical service of a large academic medical center used a crossover design. Participants were clinical teaching attending physicians and residents in an internal medicine residency program.
Interventions: Twenty-two faculty provided either (1) increased direct supervision in which attending physicians joined work rounds on previously admitted patients or (2) standard supervision in which attending physicians were available but did not join work rounds. Each faculty member participated in both arms in random order.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary safety outcome was rate of medical errors. Resident education was evaluated via a time-motion study to assess resident participation on rounds and via surveys to measure resident and attending physician educational ratings.
Results: Of the 22 attending physicians, 8 (36%) were women, with 15 (68%) having more than 5 years of experience. A total of 1259 patients (5772 patient-days) were included in the analysis. The medical error rate was not significantly different between standard vs increased supervision (107.6; 95% CI, 85.8-133.7 vs 91.1; 95% CI, 76.9-104.0 per 1000 patient-days; P = .21). Time-motion analysis of 161 work rounds found no difference in mean length of time spent discussing established patients in the 2 models (202; 95% CI, 192-212 vs 202; 95% CI, 189-215 minutes; P = .99). Interns spoke less when an attending physician joined rounds (64; 95% CI, 60-68 vs 55; 95% CI, 49-60 minutes; P = .008). In surveys, interns reported feeling less efficient (41 [55%] vs 68 [73%]; P = .02) and less autonomous (53 [72%] vs 86 [91%]; P = .001) with an attending physician present and residents felt less autonomous (11 [58%] vs 30 [97%]; P < .001). Conversely, attending physicians rated the quality of care higher when they participated on work rounds (20 [100%] vs 16 [80%]; P = .04).
Conclusions and relevance: Increased direct attending physician supervision did not significantly reduce the medical error rate. In designing morning work rounds, residency programs should reconsider their balance of patient safety, learning needs, and resident autonomy.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03318198.