Ann Intern Med. 2022 May 17. doi: 10.7326/M21-4636. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Hospital medicine has grown as a field. However, no study has examined trends in career choices by internists over the past decade.
OBJECTIVE: To measure changes in practice setting for general internists.
DESIGN: Using Medicare fee-for-service claims (2008 to 2018) and data from the American Board of Internal Medicine, practice setting types were measured annually for general internists initially certifying between 1990 and 2017.
SETTING: General internists (non-subspecializing) treating Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries.
PATIENTS: Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries aged 65 years and older with at least 20 evaluation and management (E&M) visits annually.
MEASUREMENTS: Practice setting types were defined as hospitalist (>95% inpatient E&M), outpatient only (100% outpatient E&M), or mixed.
RESULTS: 67 902 general internists, comprising 80% of all general internists initially certified from 1990 to 2017 (n = 84 581), were studied. From 2008 to 2018, both hospitalists and outpatient-only physicians increased as percentages of general internists (25% to 40% and 23% to 38%, respectively). This was accompanied by a 56% decline in the percentage of mixed-practice physicians (52% to 23%) as these physicians largely migrated to outpatient-only practice. By 2018, 71% of newly certified general internists practiced as hospitalists compared with only 8% practicing as outpatient-only physicians. Most (86% of hospitalists in 2013) had the same practice type 5 years later. This retention rate was similar across early career and more senior physicians (86% and 85% for the 1999 and 2012 initial certification cohorts, respectively) and for the outpatient-only practice type (95%) but was only 57% for the mixed practice type.
LIMITATION: Practice setting measurement relied only on Medicare fee-for-service claims.
CONCLUSION: Newly certified general internists are largely choosing hospital medicine as their career choice whereas more senior physicians increasingly see patients only in the outpatient setting.
PRIMARY FUNDING SOURCE: This study did not receive direct funding.