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Health care costs are on the rise in Canada and the sustainability of our health care system is at risk. As gatekeepers to patient care, emergency department (ED) physicians have a direct impact on health care costs. We aimed to identify current levels of cost awareness among ED physicians. By understanding the current level of physician cost awareness, we hope to identify areas where cost education would provide the greatest benefit in reducing ordering costs.
We conducted a survey evaluating current awareness of common ordering costs among ED physicians from two tertiary teaching hospitals. Our study population was comprised of 124, certified emergency medicine staff physicians and emergency medicine resident physicians. Our survey asked ED physicians to estimate the costs of 41 items across four categories of day-to-day ordering: imaging investigations, materials, laboratory tests, and pharmaceuticals. Items were selected based on frequency of use, availability of cost-effective alternatives, and tests considered to be “low yield”. The primary outcome was percentages of underestimates, correct estimates, and overestimates for ED costs among ED physicians.
The average percentage of correct cost estimates among ED physicians was 14% across the four ordering categories. Where cost-effective alternatives exist, ED physicians overestimated the cost of the more cost-effective item. They also underestimated the cost of low-yield tests.
ED physicians demonstrated limited cost awareness of common health care costs. Further studies that characterize utilization of hospital resources based on ED physician awareness of cost-effective alternatives and cost of “low yield” tests are needed.
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