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Despite the common belief that specialists contribute to the staggering cost of medical care, a recent study has shown that they may actually reduce the length of the average hospital stay. Of course, less time in the hospital means big savings.
The study, published in the July 1995 issue of The American Journal of Medicine found that a group of diabetes patients at New York's Beth Israel Hospital who were treated by a team of specialists spent 56% less time in the hospital than patients who were treated solely by a general internist. It is estimated that $65 billion a year is spent on diabetes care. Reducing hospital costs could save billions.
"Policymakers have often equated specialists with the increasing cost of healthcare services," says Randy Feninger, co-director of the Patient Access to Specialty Care Coalition. "What we've seen with this study is that the opposite may in fact be true."
The researchers determined that specialist involvement eliminated many of the delays usually associated with inpatient care. They also found that the length of hospitalization would have been reduced 71% if the specialty team had been called in as soon as the patient was admitted. There was a direct correlation between when the first consultation with a specialist occurred and how soon the patient went home.
"This study shows that quality, comprehensive care means ensuring that specialists are involved early in the treatment process," says Claresa Levetan, a Washington Hospital Center clinical endocrinologist who led the team of researchers. "Unfortunately the trend toward managed care gatekeeping discourages physicians from turning to the very specialists who can both save patients' lives and reduce the cost burden."
Levetan and the other researchers in the study found that even a one-day reduction in hospitalization could cover the cost of specialist care.
This research report was presented at the 55th Annual ADA Meeting and Scientific Sessions in Atlanta in June 1995.
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