Thursday, August 12, 2010

What to look for in a primary care physician

Now researchers from the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research in Philadelphia have published the first study incorporating new research methods for evaluating the performance of large groups of physicians. ...

The researchers examined the records of more than 240,000 patients who were hospitalized for either congestive heart failure or heart attack and examined how their outcomes correlated with their doctors’ education and background. They found no differences in mortality rates between those patients cared for by graduates of international or American medical schools. But on closer review, they found that two factors did contribute significantly to differences in patient outcomes.

Dividing the international medical graduates into those who were foreign-born and those who were American citizens who chose to study abroad, the researchers discovered that patients of foreign-born primary care physicians fared significantly better than patients of American primary care doctors who received their medical degrees either here or abroad. John J. Norcini, lead author of the study and president of the foundation, postulates that the differences may stem from the fact that as primary care has become less attractive for graduates of American medical schools, it has also become less competitive. “The foreign international medical graduates are some of the smartest kids from around the world,” he said. “When they come over, they tend to fill in where the U.S. medical school graduates don’t necessarily go.”

Dr. Norcini and his co-investigators also found that patient mortality rates were related to the doctor’s board certification and time since medical school graduation, regardless of his or her background. Those physicians in the study who were board-certified had substantially lower death rates among their patients. And the greater the number of years since medical school graduation, the more likely that doctor was to have a patient with heart attack or congestive heart failure die in the hospital.
--Pauline W. Chen, NYT, on the case for boards and foreign-born foreign medical grads

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