Interventions, especially those that are organization-directed, reduce burnout in physicians


CLINICAL QUESTION: How efficacious are interventions to reduce burnout in physicians?

BACKGROUND: Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. It is driven by workplace stressors and affects nearly half of physicians practicing in the U.S.

Dr. Ecker

Dr. David Ecker

Study Design: Systematic review & meta-analysis.

SETTING: Randomized controlled trials and controlled before-after studies in primary, secondary, or intensive care settings; most conducted in North America and Europe.

SYNOPSIS: Twenty independent comparisons from 19 studies (1,550 physicians of any specialty including trainees) were included. All reported burnout outcomes after either physician- or organization-directed interventions designed to relieve stress and/or improve physician performance. Most physician-directed interventions utilized mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques or other educational interventions. Most organizational-directed interventions introduced reductions in workload or schedule changes.

Interventions were associated with small, significant reductions in burnout (standardized mean difference, –0.29; CI –0.42 to –0.16). A pre-specified subgroup analysis revealed organization-directed interventions had significantly improved effects, compared with physician-directed ones.

The generalizability of this meta-analysis is limited as the included studies significantly differed in their methodologies.

BOTTOM LINE: Burnout intervention programs for physicians are associated with small benefits, and the increased efficacy of organization-directed interventions suggest burnout is a problem of the health care system, rather than of individuals.

CITATIONS: Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, et al. Controlled interventions to reduce burnout in physicians: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(2):195-205.

Dr. Ecker is the assistant director of education, Division of Hospital Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora.

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