Given the attention now paid to implementing national health reform, the bulk of which is now upon us as 7 million new individuals now have health insurance, one important issue remains largely ignored by policy makers and industry leaders–health care workers are very unhappy.
A 2012 national survey of 24,000 physicians across all specialties found that if given the choice, just over half of these doctors — only 54 percent — would choose medicine as a career again. Fifty-nine percent of physicians in a 2013 survey could not recommend their profession to a younger person, and forty-two percent were dissatisfied in their jobs. Forty percent of physicians in another 2013 national survey self-identified as burned out.
Nursing has gained the moniker of one of the least happy jobs in America, with nurses traditionally experiencing high rates of job dissatisfaction, burnout, and turnover. Some of the reason for this malaise among our highest status health professionals has to do with the stressful, uncertain nature of health care work.
But it also is an outcome of the everyday worlds in which all health care workers now find themselves: a world drenched in paperwork, packed patient schedules, and decreased control. In short, the new world of health reform.
We are in the midst of a technological and business revolution in health care delivery. We are also on expanding patient demand in ways not seen in generations. But we are not meeting the needs of health care workers, who are expected to produce at a higher level than ever before.
The Institute of Medicine in 2010 famously recommended that nurses should be encouraged to practice “to the full extent of their education and training.”Often, you’ll hear people advocate that every healthcare worker should “practice at the top of their license”.
What this concept is supposed to mean, I think, is that anyone with clinical skills should use them effectively and not spend time on tasks that can be done by someone with fewer skills, presumably at lower cost.
So I would like to know, please, when I’ll get to practice at the top of my license?
As a physician who specializes in anesthesiology at a big-city medical center, I take care of critically ill patients all the time.
Yet I spend a lot of time performing tasks that could be done by someone with far less training.
Though I’m no industrial engineer, I did an informal “workflow analysis” on my activities the other morning before my first patient entered the operating room to have surgery.
I arrived in the operating room at 6:45 a.m., which is not what most people would consider a civilized hour, but I had a lot to do before we could begin surgery at 7:15.
First, I looked around for a suction canister, attached it to the anesthesia machine, and hooked up suction tubing. This is a very important piece of equipment, as it may be necessary to suction secretions from a patient’s airway. It should take only moments to set up a functioning suction canister, but if one isn’t available in the operating room, you have to leave the room and scrounge for it elsewhere in a storage cabinet or case cart.
This isn’t an activity that requires an MD degree. An eight-year-old child could do it competently after being shown once.
In further celebration of Nurses Week, it’s worth discussing this TIME article about the “Killer Burden on Nurses” under the Affordable Care Act.
The point I’m raising and highlighting here is not meant to be political or partisan, but really one about nursing workloads, management decisions, and what’s right for patients.
We’ve seen recently that American healthcare spending is UP about 10%(the biggest increase in spending since 1980) – mainly due to newly insured patients getting care. The point is to get people care and treatment, but maybe the law should have been called the “More People Getting Healthcare Act?” That’s a noble goal.
From the TIME article, an opinion piece written by a nurse from California:
“… I worry that the switch may compromise the quality of the care our patients receive.”
The nurse talks about patients who are sicker due to not getting good healthcare previously. These patients require more attention and more nursing time.
In any workplace, the staffing levels should be set based on the total workload. Using “number of patients” is not a good basis, since the acuity of patients (and the resulting workloads) aren’t equal. Not every patient is the same.
Hospitals, due to other industries, do a really poor job of “industrial engineering” work that would establish the right staffing levels based on workloads.
On April 29, Dr. Daniel Croviotto published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “A Doctor’s Declaration of Independence,” in which he argued that it is time to “defy healthcare mandates issued by bureaucrats not in the healing profession.”
Dr. Croviotto does a good job of articulating his frustration with the increasingly burdensome bureaucracy and regulations placed on care. Many physicians and nurses share his frustration. I once did, until I saw a way out of the cynicism and frustration – a way that can improve the quality and lower the cost of care for all Americans.
No matter how misguided we think the federal government is in its electronic health record mandate or other requirements, simply defying mandates as Dr. Croviotto proposes is not likely to accomplish much. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence knew it was only an initial step toward ridding the country of tyranny. They had to create a new vision for a better, more effective government.
Similarly, the medical profession needs to move beyond cynicism to create a vision for a better, more effective healthcare system.