The study’s authors define burnout as a syndrome characterized by a loss of enthusiasm for work (emotional exhaustion), feelings of cynicism (depersonalization), and a low sense of personal accomplishment. More than 7,000 U.S. physicians representing all medical specialties completed a modified version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) questionnaire, which is considered the gold standard for measuring burnout.
When compared to the general working population, doctors are more likely to have symptoms of burnout (37.9 percent vs. 27.8 percent) and to be dissatisfied with work-life balance (40.2 percent vs. 23.2 percent). Among all physicians, those on the front lines of healthcare (primary care, emergency department, and internal medicine) reported the highest incidence of burnout.
“Nearly 60 percent of physicians in those specialties had high levels of burnout,” study author Dr. Tait Shanafelt of the Mayo Clinic told TIME. “This is concerning since many elements critical to the success of healthcare reform are built upon increasing the role of the primary care providers.”
Indeed, it doesn’t seem likely that primary care providers will find much relief any time soon. Healthcare reform will extend coverage to 30 million individuals, and experts predict a shortage of 60,000 primary care physicians by 2020.
The effects of physician burnout are not limited to the doctors’ disposition. Evidence shows that physician burnout can have an adverse effect on patient care.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that “physicians who have burnout are more likely to report making recent medical errors, score lower on instruments measuring empathy, and plan to retire early and have higher job dissatisfaction, which has been associated with reduced patient satisfaction with medical care and patient adherence to treatment plans.”
Staff managers should carefully consider whether doctors are showing signs of burnout so they can take steps to mitigate the risk of adverse events. One option available to staff managers is using a qualified locum tenens physicians to help ease the workload or give employees some time off. Doing so could improve physicians’ job satisfaction, improve retention, and ensure the quality of care delivered to patients.