Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Comparison of specialist and generalist care

C. M. Horwood A , P. Hakendorf A and C. H. Thompson B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, Flinders Drive, Bedford Park, SA, 5042, Australia. Email: chris.horwood@sa.gov.au, Paul.Hakendorf@sa.gov.au

B Discipline of Medicine, North Terrace, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, 5005, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: Campbell.thompson@adelaide.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH17197
Submitted: 17 August 2017  Accepted: 18 October 2017   Published online: 1 February 2018

Abstract

Objective The choice of whether to admit under a specialist or a generalist unit is often made with neither clear rationale nor understanding of its consequences. The present study compared the characteristics and outcomes of patients admitted with community-acquired pneumonia to either a general medicine or respiratory unit.

Methods This study was a retrospective cross-sectional study using data from public hospitals in Adelaide, South Australia. Over 5 years there were 9775 overnight, unplanned appropriate adult admissions. Patient length of hospital stay, in-patient mortality rate and 30-day unplanned readmission rate were calculated, with and without adjustment for patient age and comorbidity burden.

Results Over 80% of these patients were cared for by a general medicine unit rather than a specialist unit. Patients admitted to a general medicine unit were, on average, 4 years older than those admitted to a respiratory unit. Comorbidity burdens were similar between units at the same hospital. Length of in-patient stay was >1 day shorter for those admitted to a general medicine unit, without significant compromise in mortality or readmission rates. Between each hospital, general medicine units showed a range of mortality rates and length of hospital stay, for which there was no obvious explanation.

Conclusions Compared with speciality care, general medicine units can safely and efficiently care for patients presenting to hospital with community-acquired pneumonia.

What is known about the topic? Within the narrow range of any specific disease, generalist medical services are often cited as inferior in performance compared with a speciality service. This has implications for hospital resourcing, including both staffing and ward allocation.

What does this paper add? This paper demonstrates that most patients admitted with a principal diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia were admitted to a generalist unit and did not apparently fare worse than patients admitted to a specialist service; patients admitted to a generalist unit spent less time in hospital and there was no difference in mortality or readmission rate compared with patients admitted to a specialist service.

What are the implications for practitioners? The provision of generalist services at urban hospitals in Australia provides a safe alternative admission option for patients presenting with pneumonia, and possibly for other common acute medical conditions.

Additional keywords: community acquired pneumonia, mortality, relative stay index.


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