Burnout in Doctors Increases Patient Safety Problems

Burned-out doctors are more likely to be involved in incidents affecting their patients’ safety, according to a new study.

The British and Greek study, published in the British Medical Journal, analysed how rates of burnout affect physicians and their patients.

Doctors suffering from burnout were also found to be more likely to receive low satisfaction ratings from patients, as well as be dissatisfied with their jobs and regret choosing medicine as a career.

Risk to patient safety

The study found that doctors with burnout are twice as likely to be involved in patient safety incidents.

They are also twice as likely to show low professionalism levels and receive low satisfaction ratings from patients. The study authors explained that these issues often come before patient safety incidents.

Researchers also found that patient safety incidents were more likely to happen when younger doctors in emergency and intensive care were involved.

The study’s authors defined burnout by three aspects:

  • Exhaustion
  • Feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job
  • Sense of ineffectiveness at work

Overall, doctors are twice as likely to experience burnout than other workers, including their colleagues in the healthcare sector, according to the study.

Reasons for burnout

In its ‘Workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care’ report, the House of Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee pointed out that chronic excessive workload is a key factor in burnout within the NHS.

A key reason for these excessive workloads is staff shortages. The report highlighted that even before the pandemic, there were 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS.

The intensity of workloads and the stress that causes were also found to contribute to burnout.

According to the House of Commons report, NHS workforce burnout was described “as the highest in the history of the NHS”.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has emphasised the problem, revealing in a report published in July that “the risk of burnout is now at its worst since it was first tracked in 2018”. According to the GMC, two-thirds of trainee doctors said they always or often felt worn out after work and 44% were “exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day at work”.

‘Implications for patient outcomes’

The Medical Protection Society has highlighted that burnout can have “major implications for patient outcomes and the overall performance of healthcare organisations”.

Chair of the British Medical Association’s representative body Dr Latifa Patel said: “This report will not be a surprise to doctors and medical students. Burnout is not just a question of personal wellbeing or career satisfaction – it is a matter of patient safety.

“Tired, undervalued and understrength doctors cannot work to the best of their abilities and these figures throw into disturbing relief what that means for patient care.”

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