Just finished reading Dubner and Levitt’s book Superfreakonomics. It is an entertaining follow-up to their most excellent first book, Freakonomics. Among the eclectic topics in Superfreakonomics is their work on the quality of emergency room (ER) doctors —finding that the likelihood of surviving a trip to the ER depends less on which doctor a patient sees and far more on other factors including patient demographics and condition.
The great majority of patients survive the ER. Dubner and Levitt report that estimates of doctor quality suggest that the quality of the doctor might affect the low death rates by 10 percent. On the positive side, 10 percent of an already very small number is a small effect indeed, so that even average doctors are doing a very good job. On the “glass is half empty” side, over the thousands of patients seen each year in the ER, the difference in quality will end up in a few lives lost, and each one is significant.