The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) implemented resident duty-hour restrictions on July 1, 2003, in concern for patient and resident safety. Whereas studies have shown that duty-hour restrictions have increased resident quality of life, there have been mixed results with respect to patient outcomes. In this study, the authors have evaluated the effect of duty-hour restrictions on morbidity, mortality, length of stay (LOS), and charges in patients who underwent spine surgery.
The Nationwide Inpatient Sample was used to evaluate the effect of duty-hour restrictions on complications, mortality, LOS, and charges by comparing the prereform (2000–2002) and postreform (2005–2008) periods. Outcomes were compared between nonteaching and teaching hospitals using a difference-in-differences (DID) method.
A total of 693,058 patients were included in the study. The overall complication rate was 8.6%, with patients in the postreform era having a significantly higher rate than those in the pre–duty-hour restriction era (8.7% vs 8.4%, p < 0.0001). Examination of hospital teaching status revealed complication rates to decrease in nonteaching hospitals (8.2% vs 7.6%, p < 0.0001) while increasing in teaching institutions (8.6% vs 9.6%, p < 0.0001) in the duty-hour reform era. The DID analysis to compare the magnitude in change between teaching and nonteaching institutions revealed that teaching institutions to had a significantly greater increase in complications during the postreform era (p = 0.0002). The overall mortality rate was 0.37%, with no significant difference between the pre– and post–duty-hour eras (0.39% vs 0.36%, p = 0.12). However, the mortality rate significantly decreased in nonteaching hospitals in the postreform era (0.30% vs 0.23%, p = 0.0008), while remaining the same in teaching institutions (0.46% vs 0.46%, p = 0.75). The DID analysis to compare the changes in mortality between groups revealed that the difference between the effects approached significance (p = 0.069). The mean LOS for all patients was 4.2 days, with hospital stay decreasing in nonteaching hospitals (3.7 vs 3.5 days, p < 0.0001) while significantly increasing in teaching institutions (4.7 vs 4.8 days, p < 0.0001). The DID analysis did not demonstrate the magnitude of change for each group to differ significantly (p = 0.26). Total patient charges were seen to rise significantly in the post–duty-hour reform era, increasing from $40,000 in the prereform era to $69,000 in the postreform era. The DID analysis did not reveal a significant difference between the changes in charges between teaching and nonteaching hospitals (p = 0.55).
The implementation of duty-hour restrictions was associated with an increased risk of postoperative complications for patients undergoing spine surgery. Therefore, contrary to its intended purpose, duty-hour reform may have resulted in worse patient outcomes. Additional studies are needed to evaluate strategies to mitigate these effects and assist in the development of future health care policy.