No increase in patient deaths for foreign-trained docs

Nearly one in four doctors practicing in America graduated from a foreign medical school. And with a physician shortage looming, the number of foreign-trained doctors practicing here is likely to continue to rise.

Some inside and outside the medical establishment have raised concerns about the quality of care delivered by foreign-trained physicians, but a study in the journal Health Affairs this week found “no significant mortality difference” between patients cared for by international medical graduates and those by U.S. medical school graduates.

Researchers from the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research examined data on 244,153 patients hospitalized for heart failure or heart attacks in Pennsylvania from 2003 through 2006.

“It is reassuring to know that patients of these doctors received the same quality of care that they would receive from a physician trained in the United States,” said John J. Norcini, president and chief executive of the foundation. “These findings bring attention to foreign-trained doctors and the valuable role they have played in responding to the nation’s physician shortage.”

One bit of sobering news: The patients of U.S.-born doctors who trained abroad had higher in-hospital death rates than those of the foreign-born graduates of international medical schools.

“Among international graduates, the apparent superior performance of non-U.S. citizens suggests that policies that affect the size of this group might have implications for quality,” the study's authors concluded.

So, instead of worrying about your doctor's accent, it might be worth figuring out if he failed to get into a U.S. school and traveled abroad to get a medical degree.

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