Can Doctor Burnout Lead to Patient Harm?

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The increasingly negative attitudes doctors hold today about their work could be affecting patient safety, according to a new survey.

Medscape, a medical issues website, recently published the findings of its Medscape Lifestyle Report, which annually investigates physicians’ work happiness.  This latest survey included 14,000 doctors, a group that encompassed more than 30 specialties.

More than Half of Physicians Reported Work Unhappiness

Over half – 51 percent – reported being burned out, which the survey authors define as a loss of enthusiasm, cynicism, and low feelings of personal accomplishment.  In 2013, 40 percent of the physicians surveyed said they were burned out, a dramatic increase in a very short time.

The survey further broke down troubled physicians by specialty.  According to the survey:

·         59 percent of doctors in emergency medicine said they were burned out

·         56 percent of obstetricians/gynecologists said they were burned out

·         55 percent of family physicians and internists said they were burned out

What causes physician burnout?  According to the survey’s respondents, dealing with bureaucracy was the number one reason.  Long working hours was the next leading cause.

Link Between Physician Burnout and Medical Care

No direct cause and effect between negative physician attitudes and medical errors, such as misdiagnosis and medication mistakes, was established in this data.  But the survey findings include a section on the consequences of physician burnout, reporting a previously found link to diminishing patient safety.

Doctors were also asked about any biases they may have.  Those who did admit to having a bias against some patients were asked to identify them.  Top patient characteristics leading to physician bias include:

·         Patients with emotional problems

·         Overweight patients

·         Patients who were perceived to have low intelligence

·         Patients lacking insurance

Sixteen percent of doctors who admitted to having patient biases said their feelings affected patient treatment.  The Medscape survey also refers to an earlier study that said primary care physicians who possessed biases communicated differently with different patient groups.

Doctors face a difficult professional responsibility.  So all possible causes for preventable patient harm – easily identifiable or not – need to be investigated and mitigated by the healthcare community.

If you were severely injured or had a family member die because of an error during medical treatment, consult a medical malpractice attorney, who will uncover all contributing factors and responsible parties.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

Authored by: Gray Ritter Graham posted in Medical Malpractice February 16, 2017


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