We’ve long suspected it, and now a new study from Israel confirms it: A doctor’s mood has a dramatic impact on his or her professional behavior toward patients – whatever the illness.
The study, conducted by a researcher at Ben Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, shows that when doctors are in a bad mood they spend less time speaking to patients, write more prescriptions, order more tests and issue more referrals, than when their mood is positive.
Prof. Talma Kushnir, an associate professor at BGU’s Department of the Sociology of Health in the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences, surveyed 188 family doctors, pediatricians and general practitioners in Israel anonymously to try to understand how mood affects professional behavior.
In her study, Kushnir asked doctors to rank how their mood affects the extent to which they talk to patients, prescribe medications, send them for lab or diagnostic tests, or refer them to specialists. They were asked to assess their behavior on good mood days, and on days when they feel stressed, tired or anxious. Physician burnout levels were also measured.
Physician exhaustion means more extreme mood swings
Kushnir’s findings, which were presented recently at the 14th International Conference of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy, show that mood affects all the physician behaviors that were assessed.
On good days, doctors reported that they spoke more to patients, wrote fewer prescriptions, ordered fewer tests and issued fewer referrals. The opposite was true when doctors felt anxious or under stress. The study also finds that the more a physician feels exhausted or upset, the more that mood impacts professional behavior.
With billions of dollars spent on prescriptions, referrals and tests every year, Kushnir’s survey suggests that health authorities could dramatically minimize costs if they make an effort to keep their doctors happy.
“The finding that on bad mood days physicians tend to talk less, and may needlessly prescribe and refer more than on good mood days, implies that negative moods may be detrimental to quality and costly to healthcare systems,” suggests Kushnir. “Conversely, positive moods that have the opposite effects may help contain costs.”