Association between physicianUS News & World Reportmedical school ranking and patient outcomes and costs of care: observational study

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Abstract

Objective

To investigate whether the US News & World Report (USNWR) ranking of the medical school a physician attended is associated with patient outcomes and healthcare spending.

Design

Observational study.

Setting

Medicare, 2011-15.

Participants

20% random sample of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries aged 65 years or older (n=996 212), who were admitted as an emergency to hospital with a medical condition and treated by general internists.

Main outcome measures

Association between the USNWR ranking of the medical school a physician attended and the physician's patient outcomes (30 day mortality and 30 day readmission rates) and Medicare Part B spending, adjusted for patient and physician characteristics and hospital fixed effects (which effectively compared physicians practicing within the same hospital). A sensitivity analysis employed a natural experiment by focusing on patients treated by hospitalists, because patients are plausibly randomly assigned to hospitalists based on their specific work schedules. Alternative rankings of medical schools based on social mission score or National Institute of Health (NIH) funding were also investigated.

Results

996 212 admissions treated by 30 322 physicians were examined for the analysis of mortality. When using USNWR primary care rankings, physicians who graduated from higher ranked schools had slightly lower 30 day readmission rates (adjusted rate 15.7% for top 10 schools v 16.1% for schools ranked ≥50; adjusted risk difference 0.4%, 95% confidence interval 0.1% to 0.8%; P for trend=0.005) and lower spending (adjusted Part B spending $1029 (£790; €881) v $1066; adjusted difference $36, 95% confidence interval $20 to $52; P for trend <0.001) compared with graduates of lower ranked schools, but no difference in 30 day mortality. When using USNWR research rankings, physicians graduating from higher ranked schools had slightly lower healthcare spending than graduates from lower ranked schools, but no differences in patient mortality or readmissions. A sensitivity analysis restricted to patients treated by hospitalists yielded similar findings. Little or no relation was found between alternative rankings (based on social mission score or NIH funding) and patient outcomes or costs of care.

Conclusions

Overall, little or no relation was found between the USNWR ranking of the medical school from which a physician graduated and subsequent patient mortality or readmission rates. Physicians who graduated from highly ranked medical schools had slightly lower spending than graduates of lower ranked schools.

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