Physician burnout may harm patient safety, according to a new JAMA Network analysis of 47 reports that studied more than 42,000 physicians.
The U.K. researchers found that burned out physicians are twice as likely to provide unsafe care and have unprofessional behavior. They're three times more likely to receive low patient satisfaction ratings.
Health systems should factor in how burnout affects performance, care quality and safety outcomes as they conduct business and treat patients, the authors said.
Burnout among anyone can lead to cardiovascular disease, depression, suicide, alcohol abuse and a shorter life expectancy. For doctors, feeling burned out could hurt a patient's care. The problem could get even worse with expected doctor shortages and an aging patient population on the horizon.
The 2018 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report reported that nearly two-thirds of U.S. doctors were burned out, depressed or both. Physicians point to bureaucracy, EHRs and long work days as factors that raise their stress levels.
Reversing physician burnout must be a "fundamental healthcare policy goal across the globe," the researchers of the JAMA study said. They encouraged health organizations to invest in ways to improve physician wellness, especially for doctors new to the profession.
"Investments in organizational strategies to jointly monitor and improve physician wellness and patient care outcomes are needed," according to the report. "Interventions aimed at improving the culture of healthcare organizations as well as interventions focused on individual physicians but supported and funded by healthcare organizations are beneficial. They should therefore be evaluated at scale and implemented."
This is far from the first time healthcare experts have pointed to the connection between burnout and low-quality care. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said burnout can lead to negative quality of care and poorer patient outcomes.
And burnout isn't just a quality issue. It's also a financial concern, costing health systems and hospitals as much as $1.7 billion a year.
Physician burnout is happening everywhere, but a recent report in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found it isn't nearly as much of a problem in small, independent primary care practices. Only about 13.5% of physicians in such primary care practices in New York City reported burnout, compared to the national average of 54.4%.