Objective. To determine the frequency with which pediatricians and family physicians in Washington State serve as attending physicians for pediatric inpatients.

Design. Retrospective review of statewide hospital discharge data.

Subjects. Attending physicians for all patients younger than 18 years of age with nonsurgical diagnoses discharged from civilian hospitals in Washington State during 1989 and 1990.

Results. Using medical rosters, the self-identified specialty of the attending physician was determined for 93% (n = 181 581) of discharges. Pediatricians and family physicians were listed as attending for 61% and 28%, respectively, of all eligible patients. Statewide, 97% (n = 555) of all pediatricians and 86% (n = 939) of all family physicians served as attending physicians for at least one inpatient, including healthy newborns, during the 2-year study period. The median annual number of discharges per physician was 78 for pediatricians and 14.5 for family physicians. Excluding healthy newborns, the median annual number of discharges was 25 for pediatricians and 3 for family physicians. Five percent of the physician attending group provided inpatient care for 50% of all children hospitalized with diagnoses other than healthy newborn; 50% of attending physicians cared for 95% of the patients. In rural hospitals, where family physicians served as attending physicians for 44% of pediatric inpatients, children were 3.3 times more likely to receive their care from family physicians than those hospitalized in urban centers.

Conclusions. Most pediatricians and family physicians serve as inpatient attending physicians for hospitalized children only infrequently. These findings question whether the emphasis on inpatient care in many pediatric and family medicine training programs remains an appropriate goal.

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