Psychosocial challenges facing physicians of today

Arnetz B. Soc Sci Med 2001; 52 (2), 203-13.

Article in English.

Abstract on Pubmed:

Fundamental changes in the organization, financing, and delivery of health care have added new stressors or opportunities to the medical profession. These new potential stressors are in addition to previously recognized external and internal ones. The work environment of physicians poses both psychosocial, ergonomic, and physico-chemical threats. The psychosocial work environment has, if anything, worsened. Demands at work increase at the same time as influence over one´s work and intellectual stimulation from work decrease. In addition, violence and the threat of violence is another major occupational health problem physicians increasingly face. Financial constraint, managed care and consumerism in health care are other factors that fundamentally change the role of physicians. The rapid deployment of new information technologies will also change the role of the physician towards being more of an advisor and information provider. Many of the minor health problems will increasingly be managed by patients themselves and by non-physician professionals and practitioners of complementary medicine. Finally, the economic and social status of physicians are challenged which is reflected in a slower salary increase compared to many other professional groups. The picture painted above may be seen as uniformly gloomy. In reality, that is not the case. There is growing interest in and awareness of the importance of the psychosocial work environment for the delivery of high quality care. Physicians under stress are more likely to treat patients poorly, both medically and psychologically. They are also more prone to make errors of judgment. Studies where physicians´ work environment in entire hospitals has been assessed, results fed-back, and physicians and management have worked with focused improvement processes, have demonstrated measurable improvements in the ratings of the psychosocial work environment. However, it becomes clear from such studies that quality of the leadership and the physician team impact on the overall work atmosphere. Physicians unaware of the goals of the department as well as the hospital, that do not receive management performance feedback, and who do not get annual performance appraisals and career guidance, rate their psychosocial environment as more adverse than their colleagues. There is also a great need to offer personally targeted competence development plans. Heads of department and senior physicians rate their work environment as of higher quality than more junior and mid-career physicians. More specifically, less senior physicians perceive similar work demands as their senior colleagues but rate influence over work, skills utilization, and intellectual stimulation at work as significantly worse. In order to combat negative stressors in the physicians´ work environment, enhancement initiatives should be considered both at the individual, group, and structural level. Successful resources used by physicians to manage the stress of everyday medicine should be identified. Physicians are a key group to ensure a well-functioning health care system. In order to be able to change and adapt to the ongoing evolution of the Western health care system, more focus needs to be put on the psychosocial aspects of physicians´ work.
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