Importance: Sociodemographic disparities in health care and variation in physician practice patterns have been well documented; however, the contribution of variation in individual physician care practices to health disparities is challenging to quantify. Emergency department (ED) physicians vary in their propensity to admit patients. The consistency of this variation across sociodemographic groups may help determine whether physician-specific factors are associated with care differences between patient groups.
Objective: To estimate the consistency of ED physician admission propensities across categories of patient sex, race and ethnicity, and Medicaid enrollment.
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study analyzed Medicare fee-for-service claims for ED visits from January 1, 2016, to December 31, 2019, in a 10% random sample of hospitals. The allocation of patients to ED physicians in the acute care setting was used to isolate physician-level variation in admission rates that reflects variation in physician decision-making. Multi-level models with physician random effects and hospital fixed effects were used to estimate the within-hospital physician variation in admission propensity for different patient sociodemographic subgroups and the covariation in these propensities between subgroups (consistency), adjusting for primary diagnosis and comorbidities.
Main outcomes and measures: Admission from the ED.
Results: The analysis included 4 567 760 ED visits involving 2 334 361 beneficiaries and 15 767 physicians in 396 EDs. The mean (SD) age of the beneficiaries was 78 (8.2) years, 2 700 661 visits (59.1%) were by women, and most patients (3 839 055 [84.1%]) were not eligible for Medicaid. Of 4 473 978 race and ethnicity reports on enrollment, 103 699 patients (2.3%) were Asian/Pacific Islander, 421 588 (9.4%) were Black, 257 422 (5.8%) were Hispanic, and 3 691 269 (82.5%) were non-Hispanic White. Within hospitals, adjusted rates of admission were higher for men (36.8%; 95% CI, 36.8%-36.9%) than for women (33.7%; 95% CI, 33.7%-33.8%); higher for non-Hispanic White (36.0%; 95% CI, 35.9%-36.0%) than for Asian/Pacific Islander (33.6%; 95% CI, 33.3%-33.9%), Black (30.2%; 95% CI, 30.0%-30.3%), or Hispanic (31.1%; 95% CI, 30.9%-31.2%) beneficiaries; and higher for beneficiaries dually enrolled in Medicaid (36.3%; 95% CI, 36.2%-36.5%) than for those who were not (34.7%; 95% CI, 34.7%-34.8%). Within hospitals, physicians varied in the percentage of patients admitted, ranging from 22.4% for physicians at the 10th percentile to 47.6% for physicians at the 90th percentile of the estimated distribution. Physician admission propensities were correlated between men and women (r = 0.99), Black and non-Hispanic White patients (r = 0.98), and patients who were dually enrolled and not dually enrolled in Medicaid (r = 0.98).
Conclusions and relevance: This cross-sectional study indicated that, although overall rates of admission differ systematically by patient sociodemographic factors, an individual physician's propensity to admit relative to other physicians appears to be applied consistently across sociodemographic groups of patients.