Residency Work-Hours Reform

A Cost Analysis Including Preventable Adverse Events

Published in: Journal of General Internal Medicine, v. 20, no. 10, Oct. 2005, p. 873-878

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2004

by Teryl K. Nuckols, Jose J. Escarce

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BACKGROUND: In response to proposed federal legislation, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education limited resident work-hours in July 2003. The cost may be substantial but, if successful, the reform might lower preventable adverse event costs in hospital and after discharge. OBJECTIVES: This study sought to estimate the reform's net cost in 2001 dollars, and to determine the reduction in preventable adverse events needed to make reform cost neutral from teaching hospital and societal perspectives. DESIGN: Cost analysis using published literature and data. Net costs were determined for 4 reform strategies and over a range of potential effects on preventable adverse events. RESULTS: Nationwide, transferring excess work to task-tailored substitutes (the lowest-level providers appropriate for noneducational tasks) would cost $673 million; mid-level providers would cost $1.1 billion. Reform strategies promoting adverse events would increase net teaching hospital and societal costs as well as mortality. If task-tailored substitutes decrease events by 5.1% or mid-level providers decrease them by 8.5%, reform would be cost neutral for society. Events must fall by 18.5% and 30.9%, respectively, to be cost neutral for teaching hospitals. CONCLUSIONS: Because most preventable adverse event costs occur after discharge, a modest decline (5.1% to 8.5%) in them might make residency work-hours reform cost neutral for society but only a much larger drop (18.5% to 30.9%) would make it cost neutral for teaching hospitals, unless additional funds are allocated. Future research should evaluate which reform approaches prevent adverse events and at what cost.

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