Burnout in doctors impacts patient safety finds new international study

The paper, Associations of Burnout with the Career Engagement of Physicians and the Quality of Patient Care: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis* was published today in The BMJ. The paper was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (NIHR GM PSTRC). The centre is a partnership between The University of Manchester and Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust. The paper was also funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research.

Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic work-related stress and involves exhaustion, feelings of not being able to do the job, and cynicism. It is becoming more common among doctors, and this is the largest review to critically assess published studies on the effects of the quality of care given to patients and the engagement of doctors with their career.

Dr Alexander Hodkinson, NIHR Senior Fellow at the Centre for Primary Care, and lead for this research at the GM PSTRC, said: “We understand that doctors are under a number of pressures and with burnout taking the form of an epidemic, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to understand its impact on the quality of care doctors give. The fact that both general practitioners and hospital doctors with burnout are twice as likely to be involved in a patient safety incident and are three times as likely to leave their job is significant. Therefore, for organisations such as the NHS, addressing burnout needs to be a priority.

“Also, understanding how burnout affects a doctor’s engagement with their career is valuable.  If doctors aren’t engaged, they’re more likely to leave the profession, leading to an increase in staff turnover which can negatively impact patients and healthcare organisations.”

The research involved analysing 170 papers and revealed that doctors experiencing burnout are up to four times more likely to be dissatisfied with their job and more than three times as likely to regret their career choice. In addition, they are twice as likely to receive low satisfaction ratings from patients.

Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at The University of Manchester who was involved in this study, said: “The pressures that many clinicians face in the NHS is impacting on their ability to deliver safe and effective care. In relation to general practice, the impact of this stress is causing doctors to experience burnout so they become despondent and think about leaving the profession (either by retiring early or leaving the NHS). This also impacts on how they deliver care to patients, with doctors who experience burnout more likely to make errors that result in patient harm. By addressing burnout, this research helps to show that care could be safer.”

*Associations of Burnout with the Career Engagement of Physicians and the Quality of Patient Care: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2022-070442

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