Am J Med Qual. 2010 Aug 17. [Epub ahead of print]
A National Study Examining Emergency Medicine Specialty Training and Quality Measures in the Emergency Department.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.
The objective of this study was to measure the relationship between emergency medicine (EM) specialty training and quality measures in the emergency department (ED). Data were gathered from the 2003-2004 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The outcome was proportion of patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), pneumonia (PNA), and long-bone fracture (LBF) who received recommended therapy. These measures were analyzed with respect to EM residency completion. Compared with EDs with more than 80% EM-trained physicians, EDs with fewer than 80% EM-trained physicians had similar rates of aspirin (43% vs 42%) and beta-blocker (26% vs 19%) use for AMI, appropriate antibiotics (78% vs 83%) and pulse oximetry (51% vs 55%) for PNA, and analgesia (85% vs 79%) for LBF. Additionally, a composite end point and an adjusted model showed no statistical difference across these measures. The proportion of residency-trained EM physicians did not affect the use of recommended treatment for AMI, PNA, and LBF.
PMID: 20716690 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]
From the introduction of this paper:
“When patients present to the emergency department (ED) for care, they assume that they will be cared for by a physician qualified to diagnose and treat their ills. This trust is even more sacred in emergency settings because patients with emergent conditions generally do not have the opportunity to choose the location or provider who will render this care. For this reason, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Board of Emergency Medicine advocate specific training (ie, emergency medicine [EM] residency) for physicians who treat patients in EDs.
Yet across the United States, only 69% of physicians who work in the ED are EM residency trained or EM board certified. Fewer than 40% of EDs have a majority of physicians with EM residency training, and only 1 state (Hawaii)adequate supply of EM-board-certified emergency physicians.
Although recent EM physicians are much more likely to be EM residency trained, this deficiency has been attributed to at least 4 different causes: (1) overall shortage of EM-trained physicians; (2) because EM is a relatively young specialty, a significant proportion of the workforce is composed of so-called legacy emergency physicians (ie, those engaged in EM practice prior to the proliferation of EM specialty training programs); (3) the lower staff cost of hiring non-EM-trained physicians; and (4) the difficulty of recruiting specialty trained physicians to rural locations. This variability in training of ED physicians has elicited some controversy, but the impact of the differences in training on clinical outcomes has not been assessed. EM-trained physicians are less likely to have expensive malpractice claims against them compared with their non-EM-trained counterparts.
Whether specialty training when compared to care provided by generalists leads to improved clinical outcomes for specific conditions has been reviewed more broadly in medicine, but not in the context of EM.
Because the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report identified shortcomings in the quality of care in the US health system, there has been renewed emphasis on emphasis on identifying measures of quality and performance.
Treatment of acute myocardial infarction (AMI), pneumonia (PNA), and long bone fractures (LBFs) has been used to evaluate quality across EDs. These characteristics have been recognized as ED quality measures to varying extents. These measures evaluate the extent to which patients receive recommended therapies.”
Core Measures are a set of care processes developed by The Joint Commission, the nation’s predominant standards-setting and accrediting body in health care, to improve the quality of health care by implementing a national, standardized performance measurement system. The Core Measures were derived largely from a set of quality indicators defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They have been shown to reduce the risk of complications, prevent recurrences and otherwise treat the majority of patients who come to a hospital for treatment of a condition or illness. Core Measures help hospitals improve the quality of patient care by focusing on the actual results of care.
This study was a national cross-sectional study of ED visits for 2003 through 2004 using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS). The NHAMCS is administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s NCHS and is endorsed by the Emergency Nurses Association, the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians. It is a national probability sample of visits to the EDs of non-governmental general and short-stay acute care hospitals located in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
As stated above, this study was performed using cross-sectional data culled from a national database of all 50 states, and is clearly of greater quality and inspires more confidence compared to the small studies often cited to support claims of the alleged superior skills of EM residency trained physicians over their experienced, non-EM residency trained ER colleagues ( AAEM: Board Certification, Articles on Quality of Care ). Aside from having small samples, these other studies were performed with less stringent methodologies (mostly retrospective reviews) performed in only one hospital or at most, compare one hospital with another, mostly examining the effects of the introduction of an ER residency training program, the results of which can not, by any stretch of the imagination, be extrapolated to demonstrate what the AAEM and ABEM claim, that EM residency trained physicians have significantly superior clinical outcomes compared with non-EM residency trained physicians.
This quality study shows otherwise. In the discussion, it is interesting to note that the authors are hesitant to state outright what their results show, namely that when looking at nationally defined clinical criteria, non-EM residency trained and EM residency trained physicians give the same quality care. Instead, they state that the measures they used
“may be too simple to demonstrate the value of EM physicians. Future efforts to assess the role of EM training in ED quality should focus more on measures that demonstrate the unique skills of EM-trained physicians.”
What “unique skills”? The authors themselves admit that they chose these measures based on quality studies endorsed by professional societies. What the authors may be hesitant to acknowledge due to the controversy currently raging in the EM community, is that there is no significant difference in quality between EM residency trained physicians and experienced non-EM residency trained physicians, certainly not enough to warrant paying non-EM residency trained physicians much less and removing their much needed presence in the ERs.