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J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Jun;20(6):497-503.

Does experience matter? A comparison of the practice of attendings and residents.

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Department of Medicine, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY 10021, USA.



To compare the utilization of health care resources and patterns of chronic disease care by patients of medical residents and patients of their attending physicians.


This study involved a longitudinal cohort of 14,554 patients seen over a 1-year period by 149 residents and 36 attendings located in an urban academic medical center. Data were acquired prospectively through a practice management system used to order tests, write prescriptions, and code ambulatory visits. We assessed resource utilization by measuring the total direct costs of care over a 1-year period, including ambulatory and inpatient costs, and the numbers and types of resources used.


Residents' patients were similar to attendings' patients in age and gender, but residents' patients were more likely to have Medicaid or Medicare and to have a higher burden of comorbidity. Total annual ambulatory care costs were almost 60% higher for residents' patients than for attendings' patients in unadjusted analyses, and 30% higher in analyses adjusted for differences in case mix (adjusted mean 888 dollars vs 750 dollars; P=.0001). The primary cost drivers on the outpatient side were consultations and radiological procedures. Total inpatient costs were almost twice as high for residents' patients compared to attendings' patients in unadjusted analyses, but virtually identical in analyses adjusted for case mix differences (adjusted mean of 849 dollars vs 860 dollars). Admission rates were almost double for residents' patients. Total adjusted costs for residents' patients were slightly, but not significantly, higher than for attendings' patients (adjusted mean 1,651 dollars vs 1,540 dollars; P>.05). Residents' and attendings' patients generally did not differ in the patterns of care for diabetes, asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and depression, except that residents' patients with asthma/COPD, ischemic heart disease, and diabetes were admitted more frequently than attendings' patients.


Our results indicate that residents' patients had higher costs than attendings' patients, but the differences would have been seriously overestimated without adjustment. We conclude that it costs about 7% more for residents to manage patients than for attendings. On the ambulatory side, the larger number of procedures and consults ordered for residents' patients appears to drive the higher costs.

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