From Astronauts to Attendings: Workload, Duty Hours and July, Oh My!

31 07 2013

reposted from Academic Medicine’s blog

Every July, as academic hospitals welcome new interns, a flurry of activity ensues. While learning to care for patients and navigating the complex social territories of their new hospitals, interns also are worrying about “getting out on time” and making sure not to “dump” on their colleagues. This work compression, particularly among interns who are not familiar with the day-to-day operations of wards, can strain the learning environment. With the implementation of resident duty hours regulations, attending physicians are subsequently called to provide more direct patient care. Yet residency is a time for learning on the job, and part of that learning comes from the teaching attendings provide. In our recent study in Academic Medicine, we asked: “So what has happened to time for teaching?”

Given the recent changes in academic medicine, attendings’ workload needs to be examined, especially regarding their role as teachers. Previously, most studies of workload and work compression focused on residents. Moreover, these studies commonly focused on workload as it related to patient census. While patient census is one measure of workload, we all have had the experience of how one very complicated patient can add up to more work than 10 relatively straightforward patients. So, should we instead consider perception of workload rather than actual workload measured by volume?

Borrowing from methods developed at NASA to examine astronauts’ workload, we examined attendings’ perceptions of workload and the relationship of those perceptions to reporting enough time for teaching. In doing so, we found a steep relationship between attendings’ greater perceived workload and time for teaching. Additionally, we analyzed our results with respect to the time of year and to the implementation of duty hours regulations. Implementing duty hours regulations, not unexpectedly, reduced attendings’ time for teaching, but the magnitude of this reduction was humbling.  What was most surprising, however, relates to the time of year, specifically summer, which everyone fears because of the “July effect”.  Interestingly, more teaching occurs during summer than during winter and spring. We also found that attendings’ greater workload during winter and spring was more detrimental to their time for teaching than their workload during summer.

Certainly, having attendings provide more direct care when residents have heavy workloads improves patient safety. However, the cost to residents’ education and subsequent learning and growth is not trivial. Ensuring that teaching on the wards is restored should be a central focus of graduate medical education reform.  Moreover, while winter and spring should be times for continued teaching on advanced topics to ensure professional growth towards achieving competence, for some reason, we fall short. Meanwhile, during summer, attendings may cut back on their own busy clinical practice and/or administrative duties in anticipation of their role as teachers and supervisors. Regardless of the reason, to prepare for future changes to the accreditation system and attendings’ role in documenting progression through milestones, testing and implementing innovative ways of re-balancing workload to restore teaching and learning on the wards is imperative.

–Lisa Roshetsky MD MS and Vineet Arora MD MAPP 





What’s NEXT in Residency Training: Fighting off the Tick Box Zombies

11 06 2012

This weekend, an interesting article on the curent state of UK residency training crossed my Twitter feed.   Due to restricted residency duty hours in the UK (yes they have a 48 hour work week for residents aka junior doctors), they fear they are graduating “incompetent doctors who are putting patients at risk.”

This debate is not just isolated to the other side of the Pond.  In fact, a recent reports in the New England Journal of Medicine documented that nearly half of residents are OPPOSED to restricted resident duty hours, with another paper in Academic Medicine showing that many internal medicine residents were concerned about limited educational opportunities with duty hours.  Finally, in a recent study that we did with the Association of Program Directors of Internal Medicine and the Association of Program Directors of Surgery published in Academic Medicine, program directors feared specific consequences of duty hours related to faculty morale, patient continuity and resident education.

While I could go on, the reason I started to write this post was NOT to rehash the duty hours debate!  Instead, I wanted to highlight a very specific concern that is mentioned in this UK story.  One of the chief complaints in the UK medical training system is that junior doctors were being passed on the basis of dreaded ‘tick-box forms’.  (You gotta love the Brits for colorful names to what we simply call evaluations).

So now at this point, I feel like I am watching 28 Days Later, where all of London was quarantined and zombies took over.   Will the Tick Box zombies come to the United States and take over our GME system?  Have they already?  I hope not…but let’s face it.  Everyone is wondering what comes NEXT with milestones and GME.

The “Next Accreditation System” or NAS (not to be confused with the rap artist) is about documenting the achievement of specific milestones related to specific “entrustable professional activity” or EPA.  An EPA is “simply the routine professional-life activities of physicians based on their specialty and subspecialty.”  For example, for internal medicine, one of the end of year EPAs is “Manage the care of patients on general internal medicine inpatient ward.”  In this way, EPAs are more granular than the 6 “core competencies” and should in theory be easier to observe and evaluate.  Lastly, for each EPA, there will be a “narrative” that programs can select to describe how competent the resident is in that area.

While program directors and others involved in GME are all learning the new “compet-english” that has been developed, many are also concerned about the burden of evaluation in a system that is already overburdened.  In other words, will the Tick Box zombies attack us stateside?   Well, some of this is up to how the residency educator community responds to the charge.  To prevent tick box zombie attack, program directors must resist the urge to create hundreds of milestone evaluations and add them to existing evaluations.   The key is not to reinvent the wheel but to modify existing evaluations to link them to milestones and EPAs. In some cases, old evaluations that were not helpful should be re-evaluated to see if they are necessary.  Moreover, to prevent tick box zombies from striking, it’s important to design and implement ‘good’ measures of resident performance.  A good measure would adhere to some of the same properties of optimal National Quality Forum quality measures: reliable, valid, linked to meaningful outcomes, feasible to collect, and distinguish between good and bad performance.  When good measures of residency performance do not always exist, there is an opportunity to work together to figure out what they are.   While this is definitely a work in progress, one nice thing is that no one is alone.  In Chicago, a citywide meeting of residency leaders of over 10 programs was held to share how best to do this and learn from each other.   After all, to truly make our NEXT step in GME, we must all work together to prevent the tick box zombie attack.

Vineet Arora MD  

Special hat tip to @keitharmitage for inspiring this post with his tweet : )





The 5 F’s for Futuredocs and New Interns

26 06 2011

 

Yesterday, a tweet caught my attention from @JasonYoungMD who stated “My Five Foundations of Felling Fine: Food, Fitness, Friends & Family, Falling Asleep, Fulfillment.”  This seemed like the best advice I had heard for the newbie interns taking teaching hospitals by storm as well as the rising third year medical students who are about to be unleashed on the wards (if they haven’t already).  It also is a great starting point for program directors who are wondering how to ensure that their residents are “Fit for duty” according to the new ACGME rules.

 

  1. Food – While this is basic part of sustenance, finding food sometimes in the hospital can be challenging, especially at odd hours.  Fortunately, this has gotten better, but the choices may not be healthier.  In my own hospital, I’ve seen the front lobby transform from a small coffee kiosk (Java Coast which was celebrated when it arrived) to a full fledged Au Bon Pain (ABP as we affectionately refer to it).  While ABP was a welcome addition, it is easy to consume a lot of empty calories eating muffins or breakfast sandwiches!  To make matters worse, research from one of our very own sleep research gurus has shown that the more sleep deprived you are, the worse food choices you make!  Therefore, the thing you will reach for after a night shift is going to be the carbohydrate loaded Danish.  Residency programs must know this and usually have morning reports full of this type of food. So, consider how you will make healthy food choices – whether that be bringing your own food, or finding out where the healthy options are.  Lastly, don’t forget about the empty calories that come with beverages, especially coffee-related drinks.  For you Starbucks fans, there is an app for that – and I guarantee you may change your choices.
  2. Fitness – Like food, fitness can be hard to come by.  Interestingly, working in the hospital can actually be a way to get exercise.  For example, some studies demonstrate that residents walk as much as 6 miles on call!   However, its also just as easy to sit behind a computer and take a “mission control” approach to your call night where you are monitoring all your iPatients.  So, think about this and consider wearing a pedometer and most importantly getting into a routine.  When time is of the essence, find a way to work fitness into your day like taking the stairs in lieu of the elevator, or parking farther away.  If you join a gym, you have to make sure you go…and one easy way of doing this is to make sure your gym is on your way home from work and that is your first stop.  During residency, I actually switched to a gym that was directly on my route home that had a parking lot so I literally had no excuse and actually felt guilty while I drove by and did not stop there.  Others opted for 24hour gym craze that that could work for anyone’s schedule.  Lastly, exercising with a friend will likely lead to greater results than the solo work out.
  3. Friends & Family – Speaking of friends and family, this is the support system that gets interns through residency.  Fortunately, another omnipresent F can be helpful here – Facebook.   Busy interns or students can at least get reminders to electronically wish your friends happy birthday or log in on that random Monday off to reconnect with friends.   It’s also important to set appropriate expectations with your friends and family, for example when you are starting on a time intensive rotation that can be demanding.   Because of the intense nature of working in the hospital, some of you will form fast friendships with your co-interns and residents which can be helpful to get you through.  However, even your closest friends (including those at work) will ask you to choose between them and sleep- which can be very tough when you are running low on sleep.
  4. Falling asleep –So, speaking of sleep, my first question was where do I sleep?   Sounds silly I know, but I actually did not know where the call rooms were or did not have the call room key for my first call night ( I actually can’t remember which) so I ended up going to sleep for an hour in an unoccupied hospital bed.  So, this may not be possible today for 2 reasons: (1) interns are not likely sleeping when working the jam packed 16h shifts; and (2) hospital beds are nearly always filled! Still the challenge for today’s interns is getting sleep when working odd hours, especially if starting night shifts on night float or ‘night medicine’ as programs are evolving to include more night rotations.  If this means you have to invest in window treatments or wear an eyeshade at night, just do it.  There is nothing better than sleep for a resident and the more the better.  While your sleep at home may be limited regardless due to your other family obligations, its important to know your limits and set aside nights where you will recover.
  5. Fulfillment – Last but not least, its important to figure out how to keep yourself happy and fulfilled during your residency.  In some cases, that is a particular hobby or loved one that you need to stay in touch with.  In other cases, fulfillment is more complex.  It is not uncommon to have doubts about your future career as you stand by the fax waiting for outside hospital records, wait on the phone to schedule a follow up appointment for a discharged patient, or even transport a sick patient to get a needed test.  While many are working on ways to reduce the burden of this largely administrative work, interns and medical students are still straddled with a large amount of scut which can be demoralizing.  So, where do you find the fulfillment in your work? Well, you will find it when you least expect it – in the words of a patient who is eternally grateful.  In other cases, you will meet a mentor or role model who shares your passion and interest in medicine, whatever that may be, and can inspire you to keep you going. Whatever it is, find it and hang on to it for dear life during your darkest hours and it will pull you through.

I do need to add one more F to this fine list –  So provided that you are keeping up with the first 5 F’s, the best thing is that being in the hospital, learning medicine, and caring for patients is actually FUN!  So, don’t forget to pause and enjoy it…these tips will also serve you will in the FUTURE!

–Vineet Arora, MD

Other helpful posts to conquer any FEARS of starting on the wards:

What NOT to Wear on the Wards

How to Present to Your Attending





Useless Charts & Fresh Eyes in Handoffs

28 03 2011

Last month, I was a speaker for AMSA on their patient safety webinar. This was the brainchild of Aliye Runyan, a fourth year medical student at University of Miami and her colleagues, to expand the patient safety taught to medical students.  They are not alone.  The IHI Open School also virally spreads patient safety training where traditional med schools failed.

My topic was handoffs – and they asked me to talk about it.  I wondered what could I tell mostly preclinical medical students, some of whom may not have even entered the clinical arena about handoffs.  Would what I say be over their head and irrelevant if they had no clinical context?  I was also hoping there were some fourth years on the call who could offer their experience doing handoffs as subinterns.

But, I forgot the importance of fresh eyes, a concept that is sometimes used to describe the one positive aspect of a handoff, that sometimes the best insights come from someone who is not well acquainted with the case.  I had a lot of fresh eyes (and mostly ears) on the call.  In the vibrant Q&A that followed (and continued via email), one of the things the medical students brought up asked me about something I said is sometimes bad in the signouts- TMI? or Too much information.  This often happens when the signout is used to help the primary team track the patient and it loses its function for the receiver.  In hospitals with electronic health records, TMI is often a symptom of “CoPaGA” syndrome, or Copy and Paste Gone Amock.

But, this led to the most interesting debate of the night- why has the medical chart become so useless that people feel they need to use the signout this way?  I was asked to think about this question again later in a meeting with our Epic staff who are working to create an automatic signout system for our residents – they really wanted to know why we needed a separate system.  Since our residents have iPads, why couldn’t they just look at the record?

I had to think about that one.  I said that the chart is a document that is an archive that is most helpful for those people that know the patient.  It is also one large medical bill.  And yes, Dr. Verghese makes excellent points about the iPatient, but the truth of the matter is that the medical record is not all that helpful when you don’t know a patient and you have to make a quick on-the-spot decision.  So, this is why we can’t ask busy residents to pause to look in the electronic health record to answer the clinical question of the moment when they don’t know the patient.  The information there is overwhelming.  Our chief resident had a better answer.  The night resident needs the Cliff notes to answer the question since they weren’t assigned (and don’t have time at that moment) to read the full text.

Of course, handoffs are more than just the written information.   A handoff also has to include a verbal interactive component.  As the implementation of shorter duty hours is looming, so too is a requirement that all residency programs make sure their residents are ‘competent in handoff communications.’   I was asked about this by Dr. Bob Wachter in an interview that was just released on AHRQ Web M&M last week (disclosure – I am on the editorial board).  Because programs are looking for a way to meet this requirement, I have racked quite a bit of frequent flyer miles visiting residency programs.  But, after I give a talk, I know that they may talk about it for a bit if I’m lucky. Once, I actually witnessed residents putting some of the principles I taught them into action shortly after I spoke at their resident report.  However, these moments are isolated and as you can guess, education by itself will not translate into practice change (we could talk to the handwashing people all day about that!).   So, like handwashing, a monitoring plan is also needed and yes, that is also part of the new requirement- that programs actively monitor resident handoffs.

So as we head into July 2011, here’s to more fresh eyes…

–Vineet Arora, MD





ACGME 2010: Cracking the Code, Breaking a Promise, & Hope for the Future

25 06 2010

The ACGME has just announced it’s new proposals for duty hours and graduate medical education is stopped in its tracks just as we finish new intern orientations.  Residency educators (including me) are now poring over the small print in the New England Journal tables or the sleek new ACGME website to understand how to create a schedule that complies with the new rules.   

In addition to schedule making, residency educators are all staring at the new program requirements are all trying to “crack the code” in the new requirements, much like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.  Specifically, program directors want to know what will count as “qualified supervisor”, “fitness to duty”, “strategic napping”, or a “fatigue management strategy” so that programs don’t get the red flag the next time the ACGME site visitor comes knocking.  So far, it sounds like residents can still supervise interns so attendings aren’t being asked to sleepover in their offices…just yet.   This will likely generate some of the discussion for the 45-day public comment period on the proposed requirements.  

One thing is clearly different – interns (first year residents) will only work 16 hours maximum while residents (after internship) can work longer – up to 28 hours (I should say 24+4).  While it makes sense to protect the interns who are least experienced and most sensitive to fatigue, the current culture characterizes internship through the following promise:  if you can “just get through intern year”, then it gets better.   In fact, I think I stated this to many of our graduating medical students and incoming interns this month!   After internship, residents currently look forward to more time for research and elective rotations, working on applications for future job/fellowship, studying for their boards, catching up on paying bills (or moonlighting to pay bills) and reacquainting with their family and friends.  The promise is also more than just hours of life, its about the scut work associated with intern work improving later in residency.  Residents can now go to their educational conferences or operate in the OR and leave their interns behind to doublecheck and triplecheck that the CT’s are done, labs are drawn, medications are adminstered, and patients actually get discharged.  So what happens if this promise is broken?   The rationale for preserving overnight call for residents is that they will get the clinical experience that they need at a time when they are ready and prepared.  However, the escalation of work during training requires all of us to rephrase how we approach discussing internship and residency.   Most importantly, what will the interns and residents think about breaking the promise?

The new rules also include more on handoffs, one of my favorite topics.  While handoffs will undoubtedly be more frequent for interns working 16 hour shifts, programs are also asked to take steps to “minimize transitions of care”.  They also require all residents to be competent in handoff communication and for programs to monitor handoffs so they are structured, effective and safe.   As we’ve discussed before, it’s currently unclear what type of education works best, or how to monitor handoffs.   Given our work in the area, our latest thought is that programs need a “handoff menu” so that different programs can “order” the types of education or evaluation tools (ranging from 5 minute lecture to simulation-based training) that will work best for their residents. 

Given the need to scale up handoff education to all residents, it’s important to make learning about handoffs fun, interactive, and most of all QUICK.  After all, getting time on the GME orientation calendar is not easy when you’re competing against needlesticks and computer training.  So, with the help of a talented recent medical student graduate, we’ve developed a short video to highlight the pitfalls of handoffs and how not to do them for our new intern oriention that generated lots of positive feedback.  (It’s now publicly posted on here as part of a social media contest this week for educational video of the month so please vote by sharing!).  

And just when I thought we were onto something,  two of our creative undergraduate students decided to go one step further with the following “Oh My God” Handoffs Cartoon based on the video which says it all in one page (read clockwise)!  So, with all the fretting about how we will ensure the clinical education and professional development of the millenial generation with the new duty hour limits, we cannot forget to celebrate their incredible unique talents and nurture it for the betterment of medical education and patient care.   Maybe they will figure out the best call schedule for the new rules too.

–Vineet Arora, MD

please email patienthandoffs@gmail.com for any information on our Handoff Menu or other tools

Disclosure: I have received funding from the ACGME to reviewthe literature  to help inform the new standards and have also testified to the committee that created the new standards.





Resident Duty Hours: Time for a Wake Up Call?

22 02 2010

Anyone affiliated with a teaching hospital knows that the controversy regarding resident work hours is heating up again.  It’s been over 5 years since the ACGME limited resident hours to 80 hours per week with a maximum of 30 consecutive hours.  While this may not sound like ‘reform’, as someone who trained prior to these rules, it is definitely a change. 

More recently, the Institute of Medicine issued a report titled, “Resident Duty Hours: Enhancing Sleep, Supervision & Safety” which recommended cutting hours of resident physicians even more to 16 hours per shift OR a 5 hour ‘mandated’ nap in the current 30 hour system.  The report cites literature from sleep science demonstrating the perils of resident fatigue.  These recommendations have ignited a renewed furor – with groups on both sides of the fence.  For example, the AMA student section recently passed a resolution against the ‘nap’ stating that it would hurt continuity of care.  Other medical societies have highlighted the current issues complying with the 2003 ACGME duty hours and the enormous cost of implementing the IOM recommendations.  The cost of 1.6 billion would be cost-neutral to society if we expected an 11% reduction in preventable adverse events.  As a result of this report, the ACGME has convened a task force to issue new duty hour recommendations in 2011.

As physicians debate these positions, public support for further limits is growing.  Recently, 40 patient advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, have signed a petition urging the ACGME to adopt the IOM recommendations and others to sign the petition at a website cleverly named wakeupdoctor.org.  The website states “Missing: A Patient Perspective on the Need to Reduce Resident Work Hours” and explains the problem “You’ve seen them on Scrubs, ER and Grey’s Anatomy — deeply fatigued interns and residents. But truth is stranger than fiction.” The website does cite evidence that sleep deprived residents make mistakes and the recent IOM report.  Interestingly, the safety risks regarding handoffs are not mentioned. 

With shorter hours, there will be an increase in handoffs, with associated risks for patients.  The IOM report acknowledged handoffs were risky, but highlighted that duty hour reforms should not be hampered due to concerns regarding handoffs.  The IOM did recommend that all trainees receive education on how to perform handoffs.  Unfortunately, it is unclear how to train residents to do handoffs and what improvements actually result in better outcomes. 

Of course, no one wants a tired doctor.  But, the more relevant question is whether you prefer a tired doctor that knows you or a well rested doctor that doesn’t know you? Acknowledging the tradeoff makes it harder to answer.  My answer – it depends.  For a simple procedure, I would choose the well-rested resident (the one that’s most experienced in fact).  But, for a more complex decision where familiarity with the patient matters, I prefer the resident who may be tired, but knows me better.  Of course residents can’t work 24/7 (like they did when they were truly lived in the hospital hence ‘resident’) so handoffs will occur and limits on hours are needed.  But, to arrive at the best solution, we must present this debate in a more informed way for the public.     

Since I’ve explored duty hours in my research, here are my thoughts on some of the common questions I am asked about this topic:

1) Will reductions in hours lead to more well rested residents?   Reductions in hours will lead to some improvement in sleep, but sleep is often deprioritized because residents (like most people) have limited free time and sleep is competing with socializing, family obligations, and other general living life things.

 2) Can we mandate residents take naps (for 5h!)?  No, you can’t force anyone to sleep.  But, you can mandate break time.  Breaks are used in other long shift industries.  Unfortunately, residents are unwilling to use a break or nap if they still have high workloads or are concerned about handoffs.

 3) How can we improve patient safety during handoffs?   This is unclear, but it is clear that the process is fairly haphazard currently so that certainly investments can be made (i.e. formal training etc) so residents feel more capable in conducting handoffs.  More work is needed to know how to train residents in handoffs and also whether handoff improvements actually result in improved safety.

 4) Why not just get rid of extended shifts (longer than 24h)?   This question is interesting and it rests on whether there is really an educational value for residents following patients through the course of disease – and does that experience translate into better decision making in the future.  We don’t know currently since outcomes of residents graduated under duty hours vs. those without duty hours have not been compared since we are just starting to graduate trainees entirely trained under duty hours.  There are anecdotal reports that current resident graduates are less prepared to practice independently after duty hours.

 5) If Europe can have shorter hours for their doctors in training, why is it so controversial here?   Actually, the European Working Time Directive mandates a 48 hour work week for ALL workers, not just physicians.  This includes everyone, highlighting a major cultural difference between the US and Europe.  Junior doctors (what they call residents) were not granted an exception.  Moreover, the leaders of major European medical societies have opposed this regulation and have cited detrimental effects on resident experience.  Reports have also emerged that junior doctors are lying about their actual hours. 

 6) Why can’t we just extend training?  Extending residency training is not a popular option with students.  Unlike Europe where medical education is publicly funded, the average graduating medical student has well over $150,000 in debt.  In fact, due to concerns of a doctor shortage, most specialty societies are advocating for shortening the length of training in the United States.

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