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Are Two Heads Better Than One or Do Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth? The Trade-Off between Physician Division of Labor and Patient Continuity of Care for Older Adults with Complex Chronic Conditions

Objective: To examine the effects of physician division of labor and patient continuity of care (COC) on the care quality and outcomes of older adults with complex chronic conditions.

Data Sources/Study Setting: Seven years (2006–2012) of panel data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS).

Study Design: Regression models were used to estimate the effect of the specialty-type of physicians involved in annual patient evaluation and management, as well as patient COC, on simultaneous care processes and following year outcomes.

Data Collection/Extraction Methods: Multiyear cohorts of Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes and/or heart failure were retrospectively identified to create a panel of 15,389 person-year observations.

Principal Findings: Involvement of both primary care physicians and disease-relevant specialists is associated with better compliance with process-of-care guidelines, but patients seeing disease-relevant specialists also receive more repeat cardiac imaging (p < .05). Patient COC is associated with less repeat cardiac imaging and compliance with some recommended care processes (p < .05), but the effects are small. Receiving care from a disease-relevant specialist is associated with lower rates of following year functional impairment, institutionalization in long-term care, and ambulatory care sensitive hospitalization (p < .05).

Conclusions: Annual involvement of disease-relevant specialists in the care of beneficiaries with complex chronic conditions leads to more resource use but has a beneficial effect on outcomes.

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