Medical interns spend little time at patient bedsides

New research shows medical interns spend very little time directly caring for patients, representing a potential threat to the patient-physician relationship.

In fact, medical interns spent nearly as much time walking as they did at the patient bedside, concludes a Johns Hopkins study published online in this month's Journal of General Internal Medicine.

After closely following first-year residents at Baltimore's two large academic medical centers for 873 hours, researchers found that interns spent 12 percent of their time talking with and examining patients; 64 percent on indirect patient care, such as placing orders and filling out electronic paperwork; 15 percent on educational activities; and 9 percent on miscellaneous activities, like eating, sleeping and walking.

The researchers noted that in January 2012, interns in the study spent less time in direct patient care and sleeping, and more time talking with other providers and documenting, compared with interns observed in similar studies before work-hour rules were adjusted in 2003.

Such findings raise questions about whether interns are getting the training and experience needed to deliver high-quality care.

"As residency changes, we need to find ways to preserve the patient-doctor relationship," study leader Lauren Block, M.D., a clinical fellow in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said yesterday in a statement. "Getting to know patients better can improve diagnoses and care and reduce medical errors."

A good bedside manner is just as important as clinical performance in achieving a successful healthcare career, according to South Source, the monthly online magazine of Georgia's South University. Bedside manner not only involves providers' medical knowledge, but also their personality and ability to understand and communicate with patients.

Physicians who improve their bedside manner with empathy and compassion benefit patients and hospitals' bottom lines, with research showing more empathetic physicians achieve better clinical outcomes.

For more:
- here's the research announcement
- check out the study abstract
- read the South Source article