Alarming increasing trends in physician workload have attracted much attention in recent years. Heavy workload may compromise the quality of medication use. Previous studies have identified a series of factors contributing to inappropriate prescribing; however, there is no demonstrated evidence supporting an association between workload and the appropriateness of physicians' prescriptions in China. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between physician workload and prescription quality in a tertiary hospital in Beijing, China.
Our study was a single-center, retrospective study, with all outpatient electronic health records extracted from hospital information system of a tertiary hospital in Beijing from July 1 to November 30, 2015. We used outpatient volume in each 5-hour shift as the measure of physician workload. The evaluation of prescribing quality was based on the Rational Drug Use System. Generalized linear models with a γ distribution and a log link were used to explore factors associated with inappropriate prescribing, and we undertook a series of robustness tests with respect to different exclusion criteria.
A total of 457,784 prescriptions from 502 physicians were included in the study. Physicians had an average workload of 34.3 (±19.8) patients per shift, and the mean rate of inappropriate prescribing per shift was 14.1% (±14.6%). Higher rates of inappropriate prescribing were associated with heavier workloads (P < 0.001). Physicians who worked in the afternoon, chief physicians, those working in surgical department, males, and those with more than 20-year experience had higher rates of inappropriate prescribing with increasing workload.
Heavier workload was associated with higher risk of prescribing inappropriately. It requires great efforts to determine optimal physician workloads and mitigate the potential adverse effects on the prescription quality.