He unknowingly agreed with something I wrote recently about today’s residents lacking opportunities to function independently, which leads them to worry about their competence after graduation. Wachter wrote: “Learning from one’s mistakes is fundamentally unethical when you have a human life in your hands. But an environment in which the housestaff are trained to read the attending’s body language before making a tough call can’t be right either, particularly when our third-year residents morph from resident to attending on June 30th each year.”
Continuity of care is another issue. Wachter: “A second worry is the relative dearth of patients being followed by a single resident from admission to denouement. Our teams inherited nearly half their patients as handoffs from night admitters.”
He stated the problem very well. “So many emergency admissions traverse a trajectory in which an early assessment is followed by a period of data gathering (tests, consults), followed by an initial patient response, which is evaluated in context. In a system in which half the patients are cared for by two sets of doctors during these crucial stages, neither group fully sees this arc play out, and their education suffers.”
And regarding hand-offs. “While some trainees forced themselves to rethink their patients’ problems and actively ward off anchoring bias, others didn’t, accepting what they were told as gospel and never coming to know the handed-off patients as well as those they admitted themselves.” This happens a lot more often than most people think.
He wondered how this fragmentation of care could be ameliorated but did not offer any solutions. Fragmentation of care during resident training will at least prepare internal medicine residents to become hospitalists, since lack of continuity permeates most hospitalist services that I am aware of.
Wachter has also just noticed that formal educational conferences are another casualty of the time limitations. He said: “The other thing that worries me about the new schedules is the palpably limited time available for education. In the 16 days I spent as attending in January, I recall only two in which the entire team was available for our traditional hour-long teaching rounds.” Bob, this has been a significant problem since 2003. It didn’t start last July. There is no such thing as an afternoon educational conference any more.
It’s nice to know that someone else is at least concerned about this. Neither Wachter nor I have any answers. I will just echo what many doctors of my generation are saying. We hope we still can figure out who the good MDs are by the time we need care for ourselves.
Thanks to Susan Carr for tweeting a link to Dr. Wachter’s blog.