, Volume 23, Issue 10, pp 1581-1588
Date: 10 Jul 2008

Physician Burnout and Patient-Physician Communication During Primary Care Encounters

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Abstract

Background

Although previous studies suggest an association between provider burnout and suboptimal self-reported communication, no studies relate physician burnout to observed patient-physician communication behaviors.

Objective

To investigate the relationship between physician burnout and observed patient-physician communication outcomes in patient-physician encounters.

Design

Longitudinal study of enrollment data from a trial of interventions to improve patient adherence to hypertension treatment.

Setting

Fifteen urban community-based clinics in Baltimore, MD.

Participants

Forty physicians and 235 of their adult hypertensive patients, with oversampling of ethnic minorities and poor persons. Fifty-three percent of physicians were women, and the average practice experience was 11.2 years. Among the 235 patients, 66% were women, 60% were African-American, and 90% were insured.

Measurements

Audiotape analysis of communication during outpatient encounters (one per patient) using the Roter Interaction Analysis System and patients’ ratings of satisfaction with and trust and confidence in the physician.

Results

The median time between the physician burnout assessment and the patient encounter was 15.1 months (range 5.6–30). Multivariate analyses revealed no significant differences in physician communication based on physician burnout. However, compared with patients of low-burnout physicians, patients of high-burnout physicians gave twice as many negative rapport-building statements (incident risk ratio 2.06, 95% CI 1.58 – 2.86, p < 0.001). Physician burnout was not significantly associated with physician or patient affect, patient-centeredness, verbal dominance, or length of the encounter. Physician burnout was also not significantly associated with patients’ ratings of their satisfaction, confidence, or trust.

Conclusions

Physician burnout was not associated with physician communication behaviors nor with most measures of patient-centered communication. However, patients engaged in more rapport-building behaviors. These findings suggest a complex relationship between physician burnout and patient-physician communication, which should be investigated and linked to patient outcomes in future research.