are the large workloads of hospitalists compromising patient safety

A recently released study reveals that hospitalists — the physicians in charge of our care while we are admitted — are dealing with very large workloads, and this may be affecting both the quality of care they provide and patient safety.

The study authors administered a survey to 506 “self-identified hospitalists enrolled in an online physician community,” asking them a series of questions about their respective workloads and the quality of care provided.

Shockingly, researchers found that 40 percent of hospitalists indicated that their typical workload (i.e., number of patients) exceeded safe levels at least once a month, while 36 percent of hospitalists indicated that their typical workload exceeded safe levels at least once a week.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, also made the following startling findings:

  • 18 percent of hospitalists said their oversized workloads resulted in lower quality patient hand-offs
  • 12 percent of hospitalists said their oversized workloads worsened the overall quality of care they provided
  • 10 percent of hospitalists said their oversized workloads caused them to fail to note or act on critical lab results
  • 10 percent of hospitalists said their oversized workloads caused them to fail to make the necessary patient transfers

Faced with this information and the serious impact on patient outcomes — in terms of suffering and potentially avoidable loss of life — it should be clear to even a casual observer that physicians, hospital administrators and policymakers should make reducing these oversize workloads a top priority. But as we have learned from the many issues we discuss on this blog, what is obvious from a commonsense perspective seems to be hard for some in the medical industry to grasp.

Some of the suggestions advanced by the study authors include recurring evaluations to monitor the workloads of hospitalists and stopping the practice of offsetting hospital cuts with increased physician workloads.

While these are certainly viable suggestions, they are of little consolation to those who have already suffered needlessly because of the medical negligence of hospitalists and other staff. Unless some sort of change is introduced to the broken hospital system sooner rather than later, patients will continue to be hurt.

Source: MedPage Today, “Patients suffer if hospitalists overworked,” Cole Petrochko, Jan. 28, 2013

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