Nav: Home

Training trials

July 11, 2019

When new rules capped training hours for medical residents at 80 hours per week in 2003, critics worried that the change would leave physicians-in-training unprepared for the challenges of independent practice.

Now, new research published July 11 in BMJ and led by scientists in the Department of Health Care Policy in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, shows that these dire warnings were largely unjustified.

The analysis--believed to be the first national study examining the impact of reduced hours on physician performance--found no evidence that reduced training hours had any impact on the quality of care delivered by new physicians.

Following a series of high-profile patient injuries and deaths believed to stem from clinical errors caused by fatigue, medical accreditation agencies initiated a series of sweeping changes to the regulations governing resident hours and other aspects of training. These efforts culminated in 2003 with the U.S. Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education capping the training of medical residents at 80 hours per week.

"This is probably the most hotly debated topic in medical education among physicians," said Anupam Jena, the HMS Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy in the Blavatnik Institute, a physician in the department of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and lead author of the study. "Many doctors trained under the old system think that today's residents don't get enough training under the new system. You hear a lot of senior physicians looking at younger doctors coming out of training and saying, 'They're not as prepared as we were.'"

The findings of the study should assuage these fears, Jena said.

The researchers found no significant differences in 30-day mortality, 30-day readmissions, or inpatient spending between physicians who completed their residency before and after the residency hour reforms.

"We found no evidence that the care provided by physicians who trained under the 80-hour-a-week model is suboptimal," Jena said.

Given the changes in hospital care over the past decade, the researchers knew that they couldn't just compare the difference between outcomes of recently trained doctors before and after the cap, since overall outcomes have improved thanks to better diagnoses and treatments, better coordination of care and new digital tools designed to prevent harmful drug interactions and other human errors.

Comparing new physicians trained before reform with those trained after would confound the effect of changes in training with the effect of overall changes in hospital care. To avoid conflating the two, the researchers compared new physicians before and after the reforms with senior physicians who had trained before the reform.

The study analyzed 485,685 hospitalizations of Medicare patients before and after the reform.

The training hour reforms were not associated with statistically significant differences in patient outcomes after the physicians left training.

For example, 30-day mortality rates among patients cared for by first-year attending internists during 2000-2006 and 2007-2012 were 10.6 percent (12,567/118,014) and 9.6 percent (13,521/140,529), respectively. In comparison, the 30-day mortality among patients cared for by tenth-year attending physicians was 11.2 percent (11,018/98,811) and 10.6 percent (13,602/128,331) for the same years.

Further statistical analysis to eliminate the unwanted effects of other variables showed that these differences translated into a less than 0.1 percentage point gap between the groups. The difference in hospital readmission rates was similarly minuscule: 20.4 percent for patients cared for by first-year physicians in both 2000-2006 and 2007-2012, compared with 20.1 percent and 20.5 percent, respectively, among patients treated by senior physicians.

Taken together, these findings suggest that U.S. residency work hour reforms have not made a difference in the quality of physician training, Jena said.

As a way of magnifying any possible gaps in care stemming from a difference in training hours, the researchers looked specifically at outcomes for high-risk patients, in whom even small differences in quality of care would become apparent.

"We looked at patients who were particularly ill. In these cases, one little mistake could mean the difference between life and death," Jena said. "Even for these sickest patients we found that the reduced training hours had no effect on patient mortality."
-end-


Harvard Medical School

Related Medical Education Articles:

Medicare overpayments for graduate medical education could total $1.28 billion annually
If Medicare capped funds for Graduate Medical Education (GME) at the rate of $150,000 per resident, the move would free up more than $1 billion a year, according to a study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Gamification can give dental and medical education a boost
Introducing gamification to medical and dental education can boost student motivation and lead to better learning outcomes, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows.
Flipped classroom enhances learning outcomes in medical certificate education
The quality of medical certificates written by students of medicine was better when they were taught by using the flipped classroom approach instead of traditional lecturing.
Most surgical residents want personal financial education offered during medical training
Close to 80 percent of resident respondents to one online survey said they think personal financial education is needed during residency, according to study findings in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
Centralized infrastructure facilitates medical education research
The Council of Academic Family Medicine Educational Research Alliance has enabled a large number of research teams to conduct meaningful scholarship with a fraction of the usual time and energy.
More Medical Education News and Medical Education Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...