Resident work hour restrictions may be costly for teaching hospitals

An analysis based on a computer model suggests that recent educational mandates that resident physicians work fewer hours may cost teaching hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollarsor moreif they replace surgical residents with other clinicians, according to a report in the April issue of Archives of Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"Teaching hospitals have relied heavily on their resident staff to meet their service needs," write the authors as background information in the article. "Nowhere has this been more prominent than in surgery, where trainees are traditionally expected to have a significant service responsibility in exchange for the privilege of participating in the operating room (OR), in effect, a contract to exchange service for training." New national requirements limiting the number of hours that residents can work went into effect in July 2003, forcing many teaching hospitals to restructure their staffing.

Christine C. Mitchell, M.S., and colleagues at Brigham and Womens Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, constructed a computer model with multiple variables to predict future staffing requirements and costs for the surgery service at a teaching hospital over five years. "The model included seven major factors: number and work hours for each level of resident and fellow, moonlighter and physician extender; wages, fringe benefits and inflation rates; staffing type preference; volume and anticipated service growth; workflow efficiency savings; option to eliminate moonlighters; and option to use adjusted staffing ratios to project staffing needs," the authors write. The model was used to estimate the financial impact of four hypothetical scenarios on a surgical department with 20 residents and four fellows.

In scenario one, residents continue to work 80 hours per week, but must spend two to 20 of those hours receiving instruction rather than caring for patients. The potential cost of these chang

Contact: Lori J. Shanks
JAMA and Archives Journals

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