Physician Burnout and Unsafe Patient Care

Is physician burnout associated with low-quality, unsafe patient care?

In a meta-analysis of 47 studies on 42,473 physicians, researchers found that physicians with burnout were twice as likely to be involved in patient safety incidents. They were also twice as likely to deliver suboptimal care to patients owing to low professionalism, and three times more likely to receive low satisfaction ratings from patients.

The “depersonalization” dimension of burnout seems to have the most adverse association with the quality of patient care and with patient satisfaction. It was particularly strong among studies based on residents and early-career physicians.

In general, the authors said they found that physician burnout is associated with a reduced efficiency of health care systems to deliver high-quality, safe care to patients. For example, preventable adverse events cost several billion dollars to health systems every year. Their findings suggest that an often neglected contributor to care quality and patient safety standards is physician wellness, which they say could be better addressed. They also suggest that more rigorous studies of the association between physician burnout and key aspects of patient care should be looked at in more detail as well.

Burnout has become a growing issue for healthcare. The 2017 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report suggests that 50% of physicians in the United States report signs of burnout, representing a rise of 4% within a year. Burnout is also associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease and shorter life expectancy, problem alcohol use, broken relationships, depression and suicide.