A University of Chicago study in today's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that "hospitalists" lower short-term death rates, reduce the length of patient hospital stays and cut costs.
Those benefits improved as hospitalists -- a relatively new type of specialty doctor -- gained more experience. For instance, in the first year of this two-year study, patients under the care of hospitalists stayed in hospital about a third of a day less than patients cared for by interns.
By the second year of the study, that gap had increased to a half day, which resulted in average savings of $782 per patient.
The study also found that patient deaths fell by 37 percent by the second year. Six percent of patients under the care of internists died within 30 days, compared to 4.2 percent of patients cared for by hospitalists.
The study included 6,511 people admitted to the general medical service of the University of Chicago hospitals between July 1, 1997, and June 30, 1999. Every fourth day, new patients were assigned to the care of one of two hospitalists. Other patients were assigned to one of 58 internists.
A larger, multi-center study compared hospitalists and internists is now underway.
The National Association of Inpatient Physicians has more information about hospitalists.