Patient Safety

Effects of Physician Burnout on Patient Care | Visualized Health

By Charles Li MD

March 12, 2019

  • Doctors are getting burned out and its affecting patients.

  • A new study shows that burned out doctors have twice the rate of patient safety incidents and low professionalism.

  • Burnout has been increasing in most specialties. Some physician specialties have it worse than others.

most burned out physician specialties 2019

In the past, medicine was seen as an ideal career. Doctors drove sports cars, went on ski trips, and saved lives.

Today, things have changed a bit. Medicine is still a great fulfilling career for taking care of patients and for making an impact. However, for many, profession has changed.

Paperwork and EMRs have added significant burdens to an already challenging job. New laws and regulations have added red tape and administrative costs.

Doctors spend more time in front of the computer than ever before, and less time with patients.

This has all contributed to rising burnout rates. In some specialties, over half report being burned out.

A new study set out to find out whether this burnout affected patients and their safety.

Effects of Physician Burnout on Patient Care

data on physician burnout and patient care

Researchers at the National Institute for Health Research collected data from 47 studies of 42,473 doctors to conduct a meta-analysis on the effects of physician burnout and patient care.

Source: Association Between Physician Burnout and Patient Safety, Professionalism, and Patient Satisfaction: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

This type of analysis uses previously conducted studies to find overall trends and insights for a hypothesis.

Researchers found that overall, a burned out doctor has twice the odds of patient safety incidents as a non-burned out doctor. This is of course quite concerning as medical errors have a real potential to cause severe injury or death.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated in that medical errors are now the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 100,000 individuals every year.

Source: Study Suggests Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

The significantly higher odds of patient safety incidents in burned out doctors suggest that physician burnout is a serious patient safety issue.

Physician burnout was also associated with increased odds of low professionalism and patient satisfaction. These risks are not necessarily dangerous, but they can have a significant impact for patients during their most trying times.

Many individuals have had at least one bad experience in a hospital or a doctor's office. This research suggests that burned out healthcare workers may one reason behind this.

The Most Burned Out Specialties

most burned out physician specialties 2019

Not all doctors face the same level of burnout. Doctors today often specialize as part of their training. Each specialty has a different type of work, patient population, and salary.

Medscape tracks physician burnout. In their latest survey, they found that Urologists, Neurologists, and PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) had the highest rates of burnout.

Source: Physician burnout: Which medical specialties feel the most stress

Internal Medicine, which is one of the largest specialties covering many primary care doctors and hospitalists (Hospital doctors), had a 49% burnout rate. These are doctors at the frontlines of medicine. They are often the first ones you see when you get sick. Their high burnout rate shows just how widespread this issue is in medicine.

The Least Burned out Specialties

Least burned out physician specialties 2019

Meanwhile, nephrologists, pathologists, and ophthalmologists had the lowest rates of burnout. Surprisingly, 3/5 of the least burned out specialties were surgical subspecialties.

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