Hospitalists' perspectives on challenging patient encounters and physician well-being: A qualitative study

Patient Educ Couns. 2022 May;105(5):1209-1215. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2021.08.023. Epub 2021 Aug 25.


Objective: Challenging patient encounters contribute to physician burnout, though little is known about how these impact hospitalists specifically. This study explores how hospitalists characterize challenging patient encounters and their impact on hospitalist well-being to inform organizational efforts.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative, descriptive study with 15 physician hospitalist faculty at two locations, a tertiary academic and safety-net hospital, utilizing a conceptual framework based on the Stanford Wellness Framework for physician resilience around challenging patient encounters.

Results: Two themes emerged: feelings of helplessness and time-consuming encounters. Helplessness was associated with systems issues, misaligned patient/provider goals, and violence. Time-consuming encounters were due to systems issues, misaligned goals requiring prolonged conversations, and patient factors. These factors were found to negatively impact hospitalist well-being. Resilience strategies included developing and teaching empathy and seeking expert/colleague opinion through debriefing, peer-to-peer interactions, and external resources.

Conclusions: Organizational strategies to support hospitalists in the context of challenging patient encounters require a multifaceted approach: improved system processes, fostering a local culture of empathy-building, and supporting peer-to-peer relationships and debriefing mechanisms.

Practice implications: Enhanced communication around system process improvements and culture of wellness, in addition to communication skills and mindfulness, could improve hospitalist well-being.

Keywords: Challenging patient encounters; Patient safety; Physician burnout; Physician well-being; Qualitative studies; Quality improvement.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional*
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Hospitalists*
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research