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Is Doctor Burnout Impacting Patient Safety?

None of us functions well when we are stressed and overtired, and doctors are no exception. Unfortunately, the incidence of physician burnout continues to rise.

Burnout is not only harmful for doctors, but also puts patient safety at risk. “If doctors are stressed, how in the world can quality health care be delivered to patients?” Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, president and CEO of the Federation of State Medical Boards, said at the Federation’s annual meeting. The Federation, which represents state medical and osteopathic regulatory boards, has made stress and burnout among physicians one of its top priorities.

In his presentation, Dr. Chaudhry cited a recent survey that found more than 50 percent of doctors are currently dealing with burnout. The Medscape survey further found that burnout increased by 25 percent in just four years.

A prior study by the Mayo Clinic found that about 46 percent of the 7,200 doctors surveyed showed signs of burnout. The rate was 10 percent higher than the rest of the population. The study also looked at burnout rates by specialty. Emergency doctors ranked highest, with a burnout rate of 70 percent. Conversely, doctors practicing in dermatology and pediatrics were among the most satisfied.

Physician Burnout Increases Risk of Medical Error

As San Diego medical malpractice attorneys, the rate of physician burnout is extremely concerning. Hospitals and medical boards need to do more to get to the root of the problem, whether it is overscheduling, poor work-life balance, or the demands of electronic health records (EHR).

In terms of patient safety, there are several negative consequences. They include:

  • Medical errors
  • Higher mortality in hospitalized patients
  • Reduced patient satisfaction
  • Doctor turnover
  • Lower medical knowledge
  • Impaired professionalism
  • Alcohol abuse

Unfortunately, it appears that many health care organizations are not taking the problem seriously. A New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst survey that asked doctors how their facilities are addressing the issue of physician burnout revealed little is being done. Many of the physicians polled replied "nothing," "not enough," "paying lip service" or "talking about the problem in committees but no action plan yet." Accordingly, when physician burnout results in misdiagnosis or other medical errors, both the doctor and the health care facility may be responsible.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a medical mistake, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego medical malpractice lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.