Patients Have Difficulty Identifying Their Hospital Physicians

February 3, 2009
Julia Ernst, MS

A recent study found that only one-quarter of hospital patients are able to correctly identify their doctors and what roles the doctors had in their treatment.

A recent study from the University of Chicago found that only one-quarter of hospital patients are able to correctly identify their doctors and what roles those doctors had in their treatment.

2,807 patients from the university’s hospital were admitted over a 15-month period. Around 75 percent of those who took part in the study could not identify a single doctor involved in their care, and of the 25 percent who were able to name a physician, only less than half of the names given were actually correct.

The patients who seemed to have some understanding of the roles of their doctors were more often likely to correctly identify at least one of them. However, those who could name at least one physician also tended to be less satisfied with their care.

Dr. Vineet Arora, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, was “not so surprised” by the findings of the study, addressing the fact that frequent shift changes and the very busy nature of a hospital can lead patients to, often enough, lose track of just who their doctors are.

“In a way, the patient is in the worst position possible to make notes and jot down names,” said Carol Levine, director of the families and health care project of the United Hospital Fund in New York. “But family members are often involved, and they’re the ones running down the hallway to track down a doctor.”

However, the results of the study show that even family members are not that well versed in keeping track of loved ones’ doctors.

“Caregivers aren’t always there, especially late at night and early in the morning,” said Dr. Arora, noting that hospital rounds can often take place very early, before family members have arrived.

Whether or not patients really need to be familiar with the hospital staff is a topic open to argument, said several experts. “Do you really need to know who your doctor is, or is it more important to know some processes that will help you get the information you need?” said Dr. Ernest Moy, medical officer at the federal Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality.

What are your thoughts on this study? Are you surprised at the results? Do you agree with Dr. Moy — does a patient really need to know who their doctor is? Share your thoughts!