News: Burnt out physicians pose patient safety risk, study finds

CDI Strategies - Volume 12, Issue 53

A new study suggests that physician burnout is associated with a higher risk of patient safety incidents, poor care, and lower patient satisfaction, Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare (PSQH) Insider reported.

The meta-analysis of 47 studies, published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, included more than 40,000 physicians. Looking at data compiled from the studies, the researchers found that physician burnout doubled the odds of them being involved in patient safety incidents.

“Physician burnout has taken the form of an epidemic that may affect core domains of healthcare delivery, including patient safety, quality of care, and patient satisfaction,” the researchers wrote.

An increased risk for safety incidents occurred when physicians were emotionally exhausted, PSQH reported. The most risk for incidents occurred when physicians exhibited symptoms of depression and emotional distress—these symptoms more than doubled the risk for safety incidents, the report found.

In another recent survey, 42% of respondents said they felt burned out, and another 15% said they were depressed. Of those who identified as depressed, 3% said they suffered from clinical depression.

Additionally, another recent study found that 70% of respondents were so disillusioned with the field that they would not recommend the medical profession to a friend or family member.

The highest rates of burnout, according to the new study in JAMA, occurred among critical care physicians (48%), neurologists (48%), and family physicians (47%). Filtered by gender, women more often felt burned out than their male counterparts (48% versus 38%). By age, doctors in the 45–54 range most often experienced burnout, at just over 50%.

As far as patient care was concerned, 29% of the depressed survey respondents admitted to being less friendly with patients, 24% were less motivated to be careful when taking patient notes, and 14% expressed their frustration in front of patients. And when it came to safety implications, 14% of the depressed respondents said they made errors they wouldn’t normally make, putting patients and other healthcare workers at risk.

The effects of burnout on patient safety did not significantly vary by how established physicians were in their careers, the researchers found. But residents and physicians who were just starting their careers showed a bigger association between burnout and lack of professionalism than physicians who had been practicing longer; presumably the latter group had greater maturity along with longer exposure to the stresses of the industry.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in PSQH Insider. To read the full study in JAMA, click here. To read about the survey that reported 42% of respondents were burned out, click here. To read about the survey that reported 70% of respondents wouldn’t recommend the profession, click here.

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