Is your doctor overworked? Physician workloads may be impacting care
February 07, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Workers of all stripes know that too many hours on the job and too much to do inevitably lead to lower-quality work. In some industries, the tradeoff between quality and efficiency can be justified; but what about when there are lives on the line?
According to a new survey from researchers at Johns Hopkins University, almost half of hospital doctors say that they routinely see more patients than they can safely manage. Unfortunately, when physicians take on excessive workloads and medical errors result, patients are the ones who have to pay the price.
One in 20 doctors said heavy workload caused a patient death in the last year
In the new survey, researchers electronically questioned 506 hospital-based doctors using a physician networking website. According to the respondents, the average doctor could safely manage 15 patients during a shift if 100 percent of their time was devoted to patient care.
However, 40 percent of the doctors surveyed said they saw more than this number of patients at least once a month. A quarter of the doctors reported this work-overload prevented them from fully discussing treatment options or answering patient questions.
Even more disturbing, seven percent of the doctors surveyed reported that their heavy workload had likely caused a patient complication; five percent admitted that it had probably led directly to a patient death within the last year.
With no limits on hours for experienced doctors, workloads projected to increase
Some of the reported effects of excessive doctor workloads were relatively harmless, like ordering unneeded tests. Others, such as life-threatening medication errors, were quite serious.
In the summer of 2012, the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education imposed caps on the number of hours new doctors could work, limiting first-year residents to shifts of no more than 16 hours. To an extent, this limit makes sense: younger doctors do have higher odds of facing a malpractice claim, indicating that inexperience does contribute to the likelihood of making a medical error. But, for physicians who have completed residency, there are no externally imposed limits on workload.
The authors of the recent study speculate that hospital doctors are increasingly taking on more patients to offset cuts in payments from health insurers. Physician workloads are projected to increase even further as federal legislation is set to expand insurance coverage to 30 million more Americans.
Medical malpractice suits can financial incentivize safer workloads
Without any outside authority limiting doctors' hours, patients themselves may be the only ones empowered to disincentivize dangerous workloads. According to the authors of the recent John's Hopkins survey, excessively increasing the workload of physicians may lead to "suboptimal care," which can actually increase the costs doctors are facing and uncut their reasons for taking on too much work.
Doctors realize these increased costs when patients who were harmed by a medical error recover in a medical malpractice claim. In a righteous medical malpractice action, not only does the patient who was wronged recover the compensation to which he or she is entitled, health care providers are given a direct financial incentive to improve patient care.
If you've been harmed by a medical mistake, get the money you need and do your part to discourage unsafe workloads; talk to a medical malpractice attorney to explore your options.