Patients at teaching hospitals often unable to ID physicians

Seventy-five percent of patients surveyed couldn't name anyone in charge of their care.

By Brian Hedger — Posted Feb. 26, 2009

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Patients at teaching hospitals are unlikely to know the names or roles of the physicians caring for them, according to a study in the Jan. 26 Archives of Internal Medicine.

Of the 2,807 patients in the University of Chicago study, 75% were unable to name a hospital physician in charge of their care. Of 697 who were able to give a name, 40% correctly identified their hospital doctor. Those who gave an incorrect answer often named their primary care physician or a specialist.

"I wasn't surprised that a lot of people couldn't name their doctor, but I was surprised by the magnitude of how many couldn't name anyone," said Vineet Arora, MD, the study's lead researcher and associate director of the internal medicine residency program at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. "We didn't realize that 75% would name no one. That was a red flag that people really are not informed."

The report said several factors were associated with a patient's lack of ability to identify their hospital physician, including failure of resident physicians to introduce themselves and their role, and turnover of residents in light of work hour limits.

Socioeconomic and demographic factors were also cited. Patients who were older, single, African-American or non-high school graduates were less likely to identify their hospital physician.

Patients who did remember their hospital physician's name also were more likely to be unsatisfied with their care.

"That was not something we were expecting to find," Dr. Arora said. "At first we were sort of puzzled by this finding, but then we realized we were only able to test associations. And if you're unsatisfied with your care, then you're probably more likely to want to know your doctor's name."

The study noted that some patients didn't complete follow-ups, some may not have fully understood the survey questions and results from one teaching hospital may not translate to other facilities. Still, the American Hospital Assn. sees merits in the report's findings. AHA spokesman Matt Fenwick said some hospitals train nurses, physicians and other caregivers to introduce themselves upon entering a patient's room.

"Although a hospital cannot ensure that a patient knows everyone involved in their care, they may work to ensure that one person is well-known to the patient and is primarily responsible for their treatment -- a nurse or hospitalist," Fenwick said in a statement. "In these cases a patient knows whom they can direct questions to about their care or receive follow-up information as needed."

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