Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital physicians report heavy workloads affect patients

Are your doctors overworked? Based on the results of a survey of hospitalists, the answer is likely yes – and their heavy workloads can have detrimental effects on patients. 

Over 500 hospital physicians were surveyed about their workload and how it affects their ability to treat patients. The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine.

On the surface, the overall picture looks pretty bleak: 40% of the doctors said they were in charge of more patients than they could safely accommodate each month. And 36% of the hospitalists report that they’re overloaded with patients at least once a week.

The effects of ‘too many patients’

Patient overload has a significant impact on the quality of care patients receive at hospitals. Around 25% of the hospitalists surveyed said their workload prevented them from discussing all possible treatment options with patients.

This crunch for time also drives doctors to order tests for patients that may not be necessary. Nearly 22% of doctors admitted to ordering procedures that weren’t needed because they didn’t have the time to fully evaluate a patient’s condition.

Besides unnecessary testing, overworked doctors cause patients to experience other adverse effects on a regular basis. Ten percent of hospitalists surveyed indicated that their patients needed to be transferred to another unit for a higher level of care (i.e., the ICU) directly because of their workloads.

Hospital physicians also said their heavy workload contributed to:

  • Delays in admitting or discharging patients (22%)
  • Failure to quickly note, follow up on, or act on critical test results (10%)
  • Treatment or medication errors (7%)
  • Morbidity or other complications in patients (7%)
  • Incident reports being filed (6%), and
  • Patient death (5%).

And with hospital readmissions being a hot topic of discussion, it’s important to note that 14% of hospital physicians believed there was a direct link between their heavy workloads and an increased likelihood of patients being readmitted to the hospital after 30 days.

A balanced workload

In the current healthcare climate, with value-based reimbursement becoming the norm, overworked physicians can be a huge liability for hospitals, and it’s important to take steps to ensure doctors can effectively handle their caseloads.

Prior research indicates that the magic number for most hospital physicians is 15. As long as their work is almost all clinical, the average hospital doctor can safely see 15 patients a day.

Hospitals are exploring options to stabilize their doctors’ workload while continuing to focus on quality patient care. According to an article in Scientific American, one approach to creating a safe physician workload is assigning doctors to specific areas in a hospital.  This saves time because doctors won’t have to travel all over the hospital to see patients.  Doctors can use this extra time to better service the patients they’re assigned.

Whether you decide to go this route, or you look at other options such as adding clinical staff to lend a hand, it’s critical you’re proactive in making sure your doctors aren’t overwhelmed.

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