How do Orthopedic Surgeons Address Psychological Aspects of Illness?

Document Type : RESEARCH PAPER


1 Department of Psychiatry, Behavioral Medicine Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

2 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Hand and Upper Extremity Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA

3 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands


Orthopaedic surgeons have a pivotal role in transitioning the care of orthopedic patients from a biomedical to a biopsychosocial model. In an effort to foster this transition, we designed a study aimed to determine surgeons’ attitudes and practice of noticing, screening, discussing psychological illness with patients, as well as making referrals to address psychosocial issues in patients in need. Additionally, we asked surgeons to rank order potential barriers to and reasons for referrals to psychosocial treatment.
Orthopaedic surgeons members of the Science and Variation Group and Ankle Platform (N =350) completed demographics, and a 4-part survey assessing the degree to which surgeons notice, assess, screen and refer for psychological treatments, as well ranked ordered barriers to engaging in these processes.
As a group surgeons were neutral to referral for psychological treatment and formal screening of psychological factors, and somewhat likely to notice and discuss psychological factors. Surgeons were more likely to refer for psychological treatment if they engaged in research, or if they reside in South America as opposed to North America. The highest ranked barriers to screening, noticing, discussing and referring for psychological treatment were lack of time, stigma and feeling uncomfortable.
Overall surgeons are likely to notice and discuss psychological factors, but less likely to formally screen or refer for psychological treatment. Transition to biopsychosocial models should focus on problem solving these barriers by teaching surgeons communication skills to increase comfort with discussing psychoemotional factors associated with orthopedic problems. The use of empathic communication can be very helpful in normalizing the difficulty of coping with an orthopedic condition, and may facilitate referral.


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