From the Journals

Fewer inpatient work hours linked with worse patient outcomes



Clinician work issues have renewed relevance

“The data in this paper are from 2016 and earlier, but it is possibly event more relevant today than then,” Eileen Barrett, MD, of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, said in an interview. “The pandemic has exacerbated stressors being experienced by physicians and other health care workers, including higher clinical workloads and burnout, and spotlighted gendered effects on women in the workforce, which is likely to drive more physicians to part-time work.

Eileen Barrett, MD, MPH

Dr. Eileen Barrett

“Reporting these findings now is so important so they can contribute to a shared mental model of the challenges physicians and hospitals face as we seek solutions to deliver high-quality and high-value care with an engaged, professionally fulfilled workforce,” she emphasized.

Dr. Barrett said she was surprised that the study did not show differences in readmission rates depending on the number of shifts worked, and also that the results were not different when considering expected mortality.

“However unpopular it may be to say so, physicians and administrators should assume these results apply to their practice unless they have examined their own data and know it does not,” Dr. Barrett said. “With that in mind, hospitals, administrators, and regulatory bodies have an urgent need to examine and reduce the forces driving physicians to part-time clinical work. Some of these factors include the absence of childcare, excessive paperwork, burnout, administrative duties, and valued experiences such as teaching, leadership, and research that keep clinicians from the bedside.

“Additionally, steps should be taken to reduce the administrative complexity that makes providing the best care to patients difficult and requires hospitalists to create ‘workarounds,’ because those who work fewer clinical hours may not know how to do these, nor how to advocate for their patients,” Dr. Barrett emphasized.

“Additional research is needed to determine how mortality varies by number of clinical shifts for pediatric and obstetric patients who are infrequently covered by Medicare, also how the pandemic and increasing administrative complexity since the time the data was obtained affect patient care,” Dr. Barrett noted.

The study was supported by a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to lead author Dr. Kato, who had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Barrett, who serves on the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News, had no financial conflicts.


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