Thursday Review: “Physician Burnout and Patient-Physician Communication During Primary Care Encounters”

This November, the Thursday Reviews will be dedicated to some of the literature available on Resilience and Burnout. We’ll be examining how storytelling and narrative are essential to healthcare providers’ well-being.

Nov. 2 | Nov. 9 | Nov. 16 | Wed., Nov. 22 | Nov. 30

The Quiet Burnout Bombshell

One of the major ideas behind medical storytelling is that better physician-patient communication yields better results.1 Writing in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Dr. Neda Ratanawongsa, Dr. Debra Roter, Dr. Mary Catherine Beach, Shivonne L. Laird, Susan M. Larson, Kathryn A. Carson, and Dr. Lisa A. Cooper make a completely rational assumption:

[W]e hypothesized that professional burnout would diminish physicians’ inclination or ability to engage in rapport-building with their patients during routine medical visits. As secondary outcomes, we hypothesized that higher levels of burnout would be associated with less positive affect by physicians and patients, less patient-centeredness, shorter visit lengths, greater verbal dominance by physicians, and more negative patient ratings of satisfaction, trust, and confidence in their physicians.

It’s a kind of quiet bombshell, then, that after a survey of physician and patient interactions, no differences were evident in the rapport-building behaviors of physicians relative to their burnout scores.
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The Examined Life Conference 2017

The Examined Life Conference is a gathering for the medical humanities hosted by The University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. The conference is focused mainly on the intersection of writing and medicine, and is cross-pollinated with the literary chops of organizations like The Iowa Writers’ Workshop and The Iowa Review.

Dr. David Thoele, the Director of Narrative Medicine at Advocate Children’s Hospital, has been going for years. He introduced me to the conference, and convinced me to submit a workshop.

Now that the conference is behind us, here are some thoughts as I reflect on what I took away:
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Thursday Review: “Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative”

Telling a story is good for your health

In the Journal of Clinical Psychology, James W. Pennebaker and Janel D. Seagal study a group of students instructed to write about a traumatic experience, and then measure both the mental and physical health outcomes of those students. The results were measured against a control group, who were instructed to write strictly descriptive passages.

The participants who wrote about a traumatic experience recorded significantly fewer visits to a doctor in the months following the exercises.

The authors also review studies across a wide range of demographic groups which reveal that similar exercises produce positive effects on blood markers of immune function, are associated with lower pain and medication use, are linked to higher grades in college, and are even associated with faster times to getting new jobs among senior-level engineers.
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