Here's Another Opportunity to Help Physicians and Patients
In a recent article, Dr. Diane Shannon talked very poignantly of the reason she left the practice of medicine. Shannon said she was burnt out and wanted to be another addition to the statistic that suicide is higher among female physicians than among females in the general population.
That sounds like hyperbole until you hear how much this physician described how she, and other physicians, are often constantly plagued by worry about their patients. Even while away from work, they go down mental checklists and wonder if they ordered the right tests, gave the correct dosage of medications and so on.
Shannon refers to research that indicates that physician burnout might be related to a combination of four factors:
1. Time pressure
2. Degree of control (lack of control) regarding their work
3. Pace of work or level of chaos surrounding work
4. Values alignment between physicians and administration
You will no doubt think, "Those conditions sound familiar." Not very laboratory is characterized by chaos, but the other three factors are certainly pretty typical of Everylab USA, isn't it? So we can certainly relate to all those stressors and recognize them as contributors to the burnout characteristic of our profession; especially among the older crowd.
However, this article made me think of something else. It is a theory I have long espoused. Physicians, stressed, burnt out and inundated with data, would welcome our help in making sense of the information we provide. In fact we can do much more in converting numbers, data, and text into meaningful information. We can offer up ourselves as experts to call or consult for clarification if needed.
Think of a middle aged man presenting to the ED with belly pain, hepatomegaly and is described as icteric. He denies a history of alcoholism, drug abuse and has not traveled outside the country. So the physician starts an IV, orders a hepatic profile and admits the patient.
The result comes back, and all the attending physician sees is an alphabet soup: hepatitis A, B, C; some antibodies and antigens; IgM; surface and core "stuff." It is the unusual physician who will immediately understand what all that means. Wouldn't it make a lot of sense for us to send an interpretive report? Would not the physician and patient be better served if they could immediately see what type of hepatitis the patient has and whether it is likely to be acute or chronic, for starters.
That does not constitute the practice of medicine. It is certainly within our capability and scope of practice. We'd rather roll our eyes and make snide remarks about physicians ordering the wrong tests and misinterpreting the results.
A simple act on our part -generating a legible, clear, interpretive report- would go a far way towards improving and expediting patient care. It might not be an exaggeration to say it might well contribute to saving a patient- and
possibly a physician as well.