“Doctor Burnout Syndrome” Puts Patients at Risk
October 20, 2017
A recently published study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that more than half of all medical providers report that they experience burnout, a condition that can be extremely dangerous to patient health. Since medical errors kill over 250,000 Americans each year and are the third-leading cause of death in the country, the potentially lethal affects of doctor burnout and job dissatisfaction are critical to investigate in order to better keep patients safe.
Doctors are not the only ones who experience burnout – so do hospital administrators and nurses. Burnout, which is also known as a state of chronic stress, can be accompanied by certain symptoms including emotional and physical exhaustion, feelings of ineffectiveness or a lack of professional accomplishment as well as cynicism and detachment. Burnout can also cause insomnia, anxiety, forgetfulness or impaired concentration and attention – all of which can affect the level of treatment and standard of care that a doctor provides to his or her patients.
According to the study, 63% of participants had negative feelings about being a doctor and almost half said they would not recommend medical careers to their peers or loved ones. It should come as no surprise that when administrators, nurses and doctors are experiencing burnout, rates of patient satisfaction steadily decrease. In a recent Swiss study, researchers investigated the potential link between doctor burnout and decreased patient safety – and found that it could be the result of medical professionals experiencing memory impairment and diminished vigilance, both of which are consequences of burnout.
Depending on what specialty a doctor works in, rates of burnout may be higher or lower. The American Medical Association (AMA) published a survey that found the highest rate of burnout to be in emergency medicine. Doctors practicing pediatric medicine, urology, general surgery, cardiology and rheumatology also reported higher incidences of burnout. According to a recent Medscape survey, there are four main contributing factors that doctors say cause them to experience professional burnout.
Having to participate in too many administrative tasks, having less one-on-one time or personal interactions with patients due to technological advancements, working too many hours and feeling like a “cog on the wheel” – or more like a number than an individual – are the top four reasons for feeling burnt out for at least 14,000 doctors polled in the survey.
Medical professionals also experience higher rates of burnout than the general working population does. The Mayo Clinic along with the AMA published a study that found that doctors work 10 hours more per week than the general working population, and experience higher rates of emotional exhaustion and lower levels of contentment with the balance between their professional and personal lives.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is one of the most effective tools to assess incidences of physician burnout. Used since the 1970s, the MBI measures levels of reduced accomplishment (e.g. “nothing matters”), depersonalization (caring less about patient outcomes) and emotional exhaustion. If medical personnel measure their burnout levels and those who are at-risk or experiencing burnout are treated appropriately through initiatives created by their employers, the risk to patients and the likelihood of making medical mistakes could drop significantly.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports that 85% of physicians say that their profession negatively impacts their family lives. Due to various employment stressors, 30% say they would change their career path if they could. Because administrators, nurses and doctors all directly influence the health outcomes of individuals, it is critical to have people who are actively engaged, professional and capable across all types of provider positions.
The AAFP recommends treating physician burnout by maintaining a fulfilling social life that is not directly related to the medical field, taking educational courses on new techniques as well as pursuing an active and healthy lifestyle through exercise. As with all lifestyle recommendations, consulting directly with a doctor is advised.
Mayo Clinic researchers recommend that medical institutions combat physician burnout by providing “rest spaces” or “reset rooms”– allowing physicians and other medical staff to take breaks if they are exhausted or experiencing traumatic work events. Because working in the medical field can be both physically and emotionally exhausting, it is crucial to create and encourage the use of all burnout prevention techniques. In order to prevent medical mistakes and errors from continuing to be the third leading cause of death in the country, rates of burnout must decrease. This way, medical staff will be able to provide the best – and safest – care to every patient in need.
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