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Increasing Doctor Burnout Should Be Concerning to Patients

We all know that physicians have among the most stressful occupations around and that they experience a high rate of burnout. Even though there may be more awareness of it and efforts to combat it than in past decades, a recent study found that burnout in physicians has actually been increasing.

This can be bad news for us as patients because doctors' well-being impacts the care they provide. Studies have shown a link between burnout and depression in doctors and medical errors and suboptimal patient care.

Among the symptoms of burnout are emotional exhaustion, feeling ineffective and a decrease in the meaningfulness of work. One study of physicians found that the percentage experiencing one of these symptoms rose from 45.5 to 54.4 percent between 2011 and 2014. The rate of physician burnout is estimated to be about twice that of the population as a whole

Among the doctors most likely to experience burnout are those in mid-career who work in emergency medicine, general internal medicine and family medicine. These are the doctors that we're most likely to see as patients.

So why is burnout increasing at a time when it may seem to some like improved medical technology should be making their lives easier and allowing them to better treat their patients? One thing that hasn't changed is the fact that many doctors are exposed on a daily basis to people who are sick, injured, frightened, seeking helps and sometimes dying. They can experience "vicarious traumatization" from their patients and in fact a type of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Besides the challenges of dealing with sick and injured patients, many doctors today find the type and level of care that they're able to provide dictated by insurance companies and other reimbursement systems. Patient satisfaction scores now factor in to how much Medicare reimbursement hospitals receive. That can add another layer of stress to an already high pressure job.

Most people aren't in a position to choose our doctors based on their level of wellness or even to know whether or not they're suffering from burnout. However, it's wise to be aware of the possibility when you're dealing with a physician and to note concerning signs like lack of attentiveness. No matter what issues a physician is dealing with, they are no excuse for medical malpractice. Doctors can and should be held legally accountable for their errors.

Source: Huffington Post, "Your Doctor's Health Affects Your Health: Latest Reports on Physician Health Alarming," Paul Spector, M.D., accessed Feb. 15, 2016

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