How physician burnout worsens patient care

It’s no secret that primary care doctors are getting burnt out.

Last July, I pointed to a study observing that “large numbers of physicians claimed a lack of control of their work, a chaotic work pace and time constraints during patient visits,” and, “more than a quarter complained of burnout. More than 30 percent indicated they would leave the field within five years.”

Now there’s data showing that unhappy physicians provide worse patient care.

Evan Falchuk recently cited study finding “on days the doctors felt positive moods, they spoke more to patients, wrote fewer prescriptions, ordered fewer tests and issued fewer referrals. However, when doctors were in a bad mood, they did the opposite.”

As primary care doctors see an increasing number of patients, combined with more bureaucratic obstacles threatening the physician-patient relationship, they invariably deal with more bad days than good.

Health reformers need to find ways to improve the deteriorating morale of doctors, by offering solutions to strengthen the relationship they have with patients, and the minimize any intrusion in the exam room. Sadly, few of those ideas have been articulated:

Our system too often deprives doctors of the time and space they need to get to know a patient, think about their problem, consult with colleagues, and offer sound advice. These are the things patients want from their doctors. What’s more, doing these things are a big part of why people become doctors in the first place. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of anything in the health care reform proposals that addresses this deeply fundamental problem, and so it will continue, or get worse.

And patient care, unfortunately, will continue to suffer.