Patient Perceptions of Physician Burden in the Treatment of Chronic Pain


      • People with chronic pain see physicians as burdened if medical evidence is lacking.
      • Perceived burden mediates the effects of medical evidence on clinical judgments.
      • More burdensome patients are perceived as less credible and less likely to improve.
      • More burdensome patients are perceived as more psychosocially dysfunctional.
      • Perceived physician burden may undermine collaboration in chronic pain treatment.


      While patient perceptions of burden to caregivers is of recognized clinical significance among people with chronic pain, perceived burden to treating physicians has not been studied. This study examined how people with chronic pain perceived levels of medical evidence (low vs high) and pain severity (4,6,8/10) to influence physician burden and how burden then mediated expected clinical judgments. 476 people with chronic pain read vignettes describing a hypothetical patient with varying levels of medical evidence and pain severity from the perspective of a treating physician, rated the burden that patient care would pose, and made a range of clinical judgments. The effect of pain severity on clinical judgments was expected to interact with medical evidence and be conditionally mediated by burden. Although no associations with burden were found for the pain severity x medical evidence interaction or for pain severity alone, low levels of supporting medical evidence yielded higher burden ratings. Burden significantly mediated medical evidence effects on judgments of symptom credibility, clinical improvement, and psychosocial dysfunction. Results indicate that perceived physician burden negatively influenced judgments of patients with chronic pain, beyond the direct effects of medical evidence. Implications are discussed for clinical practice, as well as future research.


      : People with chronic pain expect physicians to view the care of patients without supporting medical evidence as burdensome. Higher burden is associated with less symptom credibility, more psychosocial dysfunction, and less treatment benefit. Perceived physician burden appears to impact how patients approach treatment, with potentially adverse implications for clinical practice.

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