Acad Med. 2021 Jan 25. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003939. Online ahead of print.
PURPOSE: The financial impact of graduate medical education (GME) on teaching hospitals remains poorly understood, while calls for increased federal support continue alongside legislative threats to reduce funding. Despite studies suggesting that residents are more "economical" than alternative providers, GME is widely believed to be an expensive investment. Assumptions that residents increase the cost of patient care have persisted in the absence of emerging evidence to the contrary. Thus, the authors sought to examine resident influence on patient care costs by comparing costs between a resident-driven service (RS) and a nonresident-covered service (NRS), with attention to clinical outcomes and how potential cost differences relate to the utilization of resources, length of stay (LOS), and other factors.
METHOD: This prospective study compared costs and clinical outcomes of internal medicine patients admitted to a RS versus an NRS at Massachusetts General Hospital (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017). Total variable direct costs of inpatient admission was the primary outcome measure. LOS; 30-day readmission rate; utilization related to diagnostic radiology, pharmaceuticals, and clinical labs; and other outcome measures were also compared. Linear regression models quantified the relationship between log-transformed variable direct costs and service.
RESULTS: Baseline characteristics of 5,448 patients on the 2 services (3,250 on a RS and 2,198 on an NRS) were similar. On a RS, patient care costs were slightly less and LOS was slightly shorter than on an NRS, with no significant differences in hospital mortality or 30-day readmission rate detected. Resource utilization was comparable between the services.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings undermine long-held assumptions that residents increase the cost of patient care. Though not generalizable to ambulatory settings or other specialties, this study can help inform hospital decision-making around sponsorship of GME programs, especially if federal funding for GME remains capped or is subject to additional reductions.