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New Research Shows Physician Work Intensity Is Similar Among Specialties

  • Written by American Academy of Neurology
  • Published in Medical News

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Contrary to longstanding assumptions, new findings suggest the work intensity of physicians across several specialties is fairly equal. The study, funded by the American Academy of Neurology along with several other medical associations and published online ahead of print in the journal Medical Care, provides the groundwork for the development of a more reliable, scientific measurement of physician work intensity that may guide future national policy in patient safety, practice management and payment.

The results represent the second phase of the two-phase project, and measured the work intensity associated with actual patient care of 108 neurologists, family physicians, general internists and surgeons in the southeast United States.

Researchers used the National Aeronautic and Space Administration-Task Load Index, Subjective Work Assessment Technique, Multiple Resource Questionnaire and the Dundee Stress Questionnaire to determine work intensity, which encompasses the time, mental effort and judgment, technical skill, physician effort and psychological stress it takes to care for a patient. Physicians responded to questionnaires immediately following a face-to-face patient visit or immediately after completing a surgical procedure.


Overall, specialties reported similar levels of work intensity; however, the specific dimensions of work intensity were more variable. Physical demand was particularly important for surgeons, while demands on time were more problematic for family physicians.

Researchers say the study points toward a more direct and complementary method of estimating physician work intensity that may guide a future, more precise valuation of intensity.

“The findings of this and other studies suggest that the instruments can be utilized in further investigation of clinical work intensity and that currently accepted assumptions of grossly differing work intensity among medical specialists may be flawed. These possibly incorrect assumptions have contributed to the development of current inequalities in relative value unit (RVU) distribution for procedures and evaluation and management (E/M) services,” said study author Jerzy P. Szaflarski, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “We hope that work in this direction will inform policy decisions, which now pay more for procedures than for the same amount of time a doctor spends talking with a patient. This type of face-to-face (non-procedural) care is provided by primary care physicians as well as non-procedural specialists. Further, larger scale study of this issue is sorely needed.”

The study was supported by the American Academy of Neurology, the American Academy of Dermatology, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Although the contributing societies approved the project, they had no editorial control over publication or preparation of the manuscript.

American Academy of Neurology

The American Academy of Neurology is an association of more than 24,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit http://www.aan.com.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose physician members specialize in diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses including substance use disorders. Visit the APA at www.psych.org and www.HealthyMinds.org.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) represents 100,300 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Approximately one in four of all office visits are made to family physicians. That is 228 million office visits each year - nearly 84 million more than the next largest medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America's underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine's cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.

To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP's award-winning consumer website, www.FamilyDoctor.org.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted with editorial adaptations from materials provided by the American Academy of Neurology

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