Purpose: Both generalist and pulmonologist physicians care for patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We studied patients hospitalized with severe COPD to explore whether supervision of care by pulmonologists is associated with greater costs or better survival.
Subjects and methods: We studied 866 adults with severe COPD enrolled in the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT), a prospective study at five academic medical centers. Patients were admitted to the hospital or transferred to an intensive care setting for treatment of severe COPD, defined by hypoxia (PaO2 <60 mm Hg) and hypercapnia (PaCO2 >50 mm Hg) or hypercapnia alone if on supplemental oxygen. Resource intensity was measured using a modified version of the Therapeutic Intervention Scoring System and estimated hospital costs. To account for differences in the patient case mix, propensity scores were developed to represent each patient's probability of having a pulmonologist as attending physician and each patient's probability of being in an intensive care unit (ICU) at study admission.
Results: Of the 866 patients studied, 512 had generalists and 354 pulmonologists as their attending physicians. The median patient age was 70 years; 52% were male; 14% died within 30 days. After adjusting for baseline differences in patient characteristics, there were no differences in resource intensity and hospital costs in those treated by pulmonologists or generalists. Adjusted average resource intensity scores for the entire hospitalization were 16.5 for pulmonologists and 17.0 for generalists (P = 0.34). Estimated hospital costs were the same ($6,400) for patients treated by pulmonologists and generalists (P = 0.99). Patients with pulmonologists as attending physicians did not experience better survival. Comparing patients of pulmonologists to patients of generalists, the adjusted hazard ratio for 30-day mortality was 1.6 (95% confidence interval: 0.98, 2.5); the hazard ratio for 180-day mortality was 1.2 (0.9, 1.7).
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that for patients hospitalized with exacerbation of severe COPD, those with pulmonologist attending physicians do not have higher hospital resource use or better survival than those with generalist attending physicians.