The 564 consultations performed by a general medicine consultation service during its first year were analyzed in order to provide a concrete definition of this new academic domain. Of the consultations, 52 percent were for patients on the surgical service. Among these patients, the most common reason for consultation was the preoperative management of chronic illness, specifically, hypertension, diabetes, and angina; 47 percent of such patients had two or more chronic illnesses. The service recommended cancellation of planned surgery in 2 percent and postponement in 9 percent of the 210 patients seen preoperatively. Patients on the psychiatric service accounted for 47 percent of the consultations. In this group, diagnostic issues were the most common reasons for consultation, that is, abdominal pain, dementia, and the suspicion of thyroid disease. Only 12 percent of the patients were seen for prognostic reasons, usually related to the planned use of electroconvulsive therapy or tricyclic antidepressants. The service was evaluated by the referring physicians who rated the service favorably on its "mechanics," as well as on its qualitative performance. However, complaints of triviality were voiced when the average length of the list of recommendations seemed disproportionate to the complexity of the problems. The service was also evaluated by the residents who had provided consultations. From their perspective, the service was more successful in teaching the "art" of consultation than the "science." This experience provides an operational definition of the work facing a general medicine consultation service as well as data useful in focusing future educational programs and research efforts.
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