Physician burnout associated with doubled likelihood of patient safety incidents

Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

A recent study found that doctors experiencing burnout were four times more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs and twice as likely to be involved in patient safety incidents.

The study, published in the journal, The BMJ, was led by Alexander Hodkinson, MD, a National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) senior research fellow at the Centre for Primary Care at the University of Manchester, in Manchester, England. Hodkinson, along with a team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Greece, sought to better understand how physician burnout impacted job performance and satisfaction.

The study’s researchers assessed the results from 170 observational studies on physician burnout, which in total included 239,246 physicians. The results revealed that physicians experiencing burnout were four times as likely to be dissatisfied with their job, and three times as likely to consider leaving their job. Researchers found that rates of burnout were highest among doctors aged 31 to 50 years old, as well as those working in hospital settings, emergency medicine, and intensive care. General practitioners, according to the analysis, were the least likely to express job dissatisfaction.

In addition, the study’s results showed that physicians experiencing burnout were twice as likely to be involved in patient safety incidents, show low professionalism, and receive poor satisfaction ratings from patients. Patient safety incidents were most common among physicians aged 20 to 30 years old and those working in emergency medicine.

While the study’s results suggested that physician burnout significantly impacts job performance and job satisfaction, researchers acknowledged that their study had limitations. For instance, according to the authors, the questionnaires and tools used to assess outcomes varied among the studies analyzed. The authors also indicated that rates of burnout could have been overestimated because terms like patient safety, professionalism, and job satisfaction were defined differently between studies. In addition, researchers said there was not enough evidence to support a causal link between burnout and patient care and career engagement.

Still, the authors concluded that their study shows that burnout is a significant problem among physicians that could impact not only the doctor’s attitude, but also patient care and satisfaction.

“Burnout is a strong predictor for career disengagement in physicians as well as for patient care,” the authors wrote. “Moving forward, investment strategies to monitor and improve physician burnout are needed as a means of retaining the healthcare workforce and improving the quality of patient care.”