Physician burnout may be jeopardizing patient care


Clinical question: Is physician burnout associated with more patient safety issues, low professionalism, or poor patient satisfaction?

Background: Burnout is common among physicians and has a negative effect on their personal lives. It is unclear whether physician burnout is associated with poor outcomes for patients.

Study design: Meta-analysis.

Setting: Forty-seven published studies from 19 countries assessing inpatient and outpatient physicians and the relationship between physician burnout and patient care.

Dr. Erin Gabriel, division of hospital medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York

Dr. Erin Gabriel

Synopsis: After a systematic review of the published literature, 47 studies were included to pool data from 42,473 physicians. Study subjects included residents, early-career and late-career physicians, and both hospital and outpatient physicians. All studies used validated measures of physician burnout.

Burnout was associated with a two-fold increased risk of physician-reported safety incidents (odds ratio, 1.96; 95% confidence interval, 1.59-2.40), low professionalism (OR, 2.31; 95% CI, 1.87-2.85), and likelihood of low patient-reported satisfaction (OR, 2.28; 95% CI, 1.42-3.68). There were no significant differences in these results based on country of origin of the study. Early-career physicians were more likely to have burnout associated with low professionalism than were late-career physicians.

Of the components of burnout, depersonalization was most strongly associated with these negative outcomes. Interestingly, the increased risk of patient safety incidents was associated with physician-reported, but not health care system–reported, patient safety outcomes. This raises concerns that the health care systems may not be capturing “near misses” in their metrics.

Bottom line: Physician burnout doubles the risk of being involved in a patient safety incident, low professionalism, and poor patient satisfaction.

Citation: Panagioti M et al. Association between physician burnout and patient safety, professionalism, and patient satisfaction. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(10):1317-30.

Dr. Gabriel is assistant professor of medicine and director of Pre-operative Medicine and Medicine Consult Service in the division of hospital medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.

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