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Surprising Science

Stressed Doctors Are Impersonal Doctors

A new study finds doctors who are stressed and tired treat their patients more mechanistically–prescribing pills, tests and other technical fixes instead of taking the time to see people as people. I guess this won’t surprise parents, teachers, cops or other people who deal with the public, but I’m not aware that it has been documented before.

Talma Kushnir, a medical sociologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, took a survey of 188 doctors, simply asking how different states of mind affected their work. When doctors were burned out, they reported, they spoke less to patients, wrote more prescriptions, ordered more tests and gave more referrals to specialists. When they felt good, they did the opposite. And this is self-reporting, so it only shows the contrast people can bear to admit. People generally think well of themselves, so the reality could be worse.

Take-home lesson for individuals? Don’t be annoying. You don’t want to be labelled a GOMER or one of those `petit papier’ people. Take-home lesson for society? Improving doctors’ working conditions might help reduce expensive orders for tests and specialist visits.


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