Objectives: This study sought to define specialty-related differences in the care and outcome of patients admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure (CHF).
Background: Congestive heart failure is the leading diagnosis-related group (DRG) discharge diagnosis in the United States and accounts for an estimated annual hospital cost in excess of $7 billion. The clinical impact of aggressive CHF management and the importance of the subspecialist in guiding this care have not been evaluated.
Methods: To define differences in physician practice patterns, we performed a chart review of consecutive patients admitted to a university teaching hospital with a primary DRG discharge diagnosis of CHF. We compared treatment and outcome of patients cared for by a generalist (n = 160) and those whose care was guided by a cardiologist (n = 138) during their index hospital period with CHF and over the next 6 months.
Results: At our institution, > 50% of patients admitted to the hospital with CHF cared for by generalists alone had minimal (New York Heart Association functional class I or II) symptoms, compared with < 15% of those cared for by a cardiologist (p < 0.01). Although generalists' patients underwent significantly fewer in-hospital diagnostic tests and had shorter lengths of stay, they had a 1.7-fold increased risk of readmission for CHF within 6 months (p < 0.05). Six-month cardiac and all-cause mortality were not significantly different between the groups. The type of physician caring for the patient and a history of diabetes, previous CHF or myocardial infarction were independent predictors of readmission for CHF.
Conclusions: Involvement of a cardiologist in the care of patients admitted to the hospital with CHF is associated with increased use of diagnostic testing, longer hospital stays and improved clinical outcome. These results substantiate practice guidelines that suggest a role for cardiologists in the care of symptomatic patients with CHF.