Most studies investigating the psychosocial determinants of orthopaedic pain and disability have focused on the spine, hand, hip, and knee. But in the December 16, 2015 JBJS, Menendez et al. looked at psychosocial associations among 139 patients presenting with shoulder complaints. Similar to findings regarding those other anatomical areas, Menendez et al. found that patient variability in perceived symptom intensity and magnitude was more strongly related to psychological distress than to a specific shoulder diagnosis, which included rotator cuff tear, impingement, osteoarthritis, and frozen shoulder.
The authors measured patient pain and disability scores upon presentation using the Shoulder Pain and Disability Index (SPADI). They then analyzed the SPADI scores in relation to sociodemographic data and patient responses to three additional validated tests measuring depression, tendencies to catastrophize, and self-efficacy. They found that disabled and retired work status, higher BMI, catastrophic thinking, and lower self-efficacy (i.e., ineffective coping strategies) were associated with greater patient-reported symptom intensity and magnitude of disability.
Interestingly, BMI was the only biological influence on pain and disability scores. Also, retirement had a negative influence on pain and disability scores, which was somewhat surprising considering that retirement often has positive effects on well-being.
The authors conclude that future research focused on the effect of psychosocial factors on postoperative pain and response to treatment might “allow surgeons to identify patients who are at risk for a treatment-refractory course.” They further surmise that “interventions to decrease catastrophic thinking and to optimize self-efficacy…before shoulder surgery hold potential to ameliorate symptom intensity and the magnitude of disability.”
The main goal of orthopaedic surgeons is to help patients feel and function as well as possible. In that context, the notion of “patient satisfaction” is as old as Hippocrates himself. But in an era when patient satisfaction is eagerly measured and used to evaluate physician performance and determine compensation, the phrase takes on broader significance.
The May 20, 2015 JBJS features a retrospective study by Abtahi et al. that determined that psychologically distressed patients give significantly lower satisfaction scores following spine surgery than patients categorized as “normal.” These findings bolster an increasing body of evidence suggesting that patient-specific characteristics have a greater bearing on patient satisfaction measures than the actual quality of care delivered.
The study looked at 103 patients at a single academic spine surgery center who completed both a patient satisfaction survey (Press Ganey Medical Practice Survey, scored from 0 to 100) and a Distress and Risk Assessment Method (DRAM) questionnaire for the same clinical encounter. Using the DRAM data, researchers classified the patients into four groups: normal, at-risk, distressed-depressive, and distressed-somatic.
The mean overall patient satisfaction scores were as follows:
- 90.2 in the normal group
- 94.7 in the at-risk group
- 87.5 in the distressed-depressive group
- 75.7 in the distressed-somatic group
Mean scores for patient satisfaction with the provider, in the same group order as above, were 94.2, 94.2, 90.6, and 74.9, respectively.
The authors offer two possible explanations for the findings: “Patients with greater levels of distress and less effective coping strategies may be more likely to perceive their entire medical care experience in a more negative light, or…psychological distress negatively impacts provider empathy and the communication quality between doctor and patient.”
In a commentary on the study (free content), Robert Barth, PhD observes that implementing scientifically credible health care guidelines often conflicts with patient expectations and decreases patient satisfaction. He argues that “monitoring the scientific credibility of health care is a much more direct and valid approach than judging the quality of health care on the basis of patient satisfaction.” At the same time, Barth cites prior research connecting psychological distress to poorer surgical outcomes and says the findings from Abtahi et al. “emphasize the need for clinicians to thoroughly consider the psychological makeup of the patient when providing surgical and other general medical services.”