Study on Doctor Burnout Leads to Concerns Over Patient Care

Physicians experience job burnout just like many other hard working Americans. However, a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine reveals that this is occurring more so than in years past prompting many to worry about the effects of doctor burnout on the rate of medical errors and quality of patient care.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, surveyed over 7,000 doctors. The survey, called the Maslach Burnout Inventory (BI), asked doctors various questions about their feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, or sense of low personal accomplishment of their job.

Almost 38 percent indicated that they had gone through some sort of emotional exhaustion. About 29 percent indicated that they felt a sense of cynicism about their job and over 12 percent said they felt a sense of low personal accomplishment in their field.

Doctors in the fields of ER, neurology, family or internal medicine, in particular, indicated they experienced the most burnout.

Not unlike any other burnout situation, a person is more likely to cut corners and miss important parts of their job when they experience feelings of apathy. However, because patients’ lives are at stake, doctor burnout is especially alarming.

Dr. Tait Shanafelt, study co-author and hematologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN indicated to TIME, “Our finding is concerning given the extensive literature linking burnout to medical errors and lower quality of care.”

And, according to Dr. Mark Linzer, director of Hennepin Healthcare System in Minneapolis, MN, the issue will most likely only get worse. Many doctors are going to be seeing more patients due to the Affordable Care Act, he says.

To help mitigate the potential occurrences of medical errors, Mayo Clinic internal medicine physician and study co-author Dr. Colin West suggests better stress management training for doctors and more emphasis on a positive work-life balance.