Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Department of Family Medicine

Posted in Research

People: Steven Roskos, Judy Arnetz, Bengt Arnetz

Complex patients present an increasing challenge to the health care system and family physicians play an important role in their care.

We interviewed family physicians from various practice settings, inviting them to choose complex patients between the ages of 18 and 64 from their practices and to have access to their medical records during the interview. We then analysed the interviews for recurring themes regarding the care of their complex patients.

Ten family physicians described 26 unique complex patients, including challenges and effects on them personally. Two themes related to the complexity’s impact on physicians emerged from our analysis: (i) high cognitive load (the total amount of mental effort required) and (ii) negative emotional impact.

It is possible that these two effects of complex patients on family physicians may contribute to physician burnout. Interventions to improve health care, including addressing physician wellness and burnout, should include the provision of resources to assist them with decreasing their cognitive load and negative emotional impact when caring for complex patients. Read More.

Key Messages

  • Complex patients may cause family physicians to experience high cognitive load.
  • Complex patients may have a negative emotional impact on family physicians.
  • Caring for complex patients may contribute to burnout in family physicians.