Payments around episodes of inpatient surgery vary widely among hospitals. As payers move toward bundled payments, understanding sources of variation, including use of medical consultants, is important.
To describe the use of medical consultations for hospitalized surgical patients, factors associated with use, and practice variation across hospitals.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Observational retrospective cohort study of fee-for-service Medicare patients undergoing colectomy or total hip replacement (THR) between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2010, at US acute care hospitals.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Number of inpatient medical consultations.
More than half of patients undergoing colectomy (91 684) or THR (339 319) received at least 1 medical consultation while hospitalized (69% and 63%, respectively). Median consultant visits from a medicine physician were 9 (interquartile range [IQR], 4-19) for colectomy and 3 for THR (IQR, 2-5). The likelihood of having at least 1 medical consultation varied widely among hospitals (interquartile range [IQR], 50%-91% for colectomy and 36%-90% for THR). For colectomy, settings associated with greater use included nonteaching (adjusted risk ratio [ARR], 1.14 [95% CI, 1.04-1.26]) and for-profit (ARR, 1.10 [95% CI, 1.01-1.20]). Variation in use of medical consultations was greater for colectomy patients without complications (IQR, 47%-79%) compared with those with complications (IQR, 90%-95%). Results stratified by complications were similar for THR.
Conclusions and Relevance
The use of medical consultations varied widely across hospitals, particularly for surgical patients without complications. Understanding the value of medical consultations will be important as hospitals prepare for bundled payments and strive to enhance efficiency.