Physician burnout increased by nearly 10 percentage points in three years—prompting concerns about physician health and patient safety, according to a new report from Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The researchers surveyed almost 7,000 physicians about their burnout rates, depression levels, thoughts of suicide, and satisfaction with work, and compared the data with surveys from 2011. They found that 54% of respondents in 2014 had at least one symptom of burnout—a nine percentage point increase from 2011, even though work hours had not increased overall.
Jarring statistics prompt renewed concerns about doctors' mental health
"Burnout manifests as emotional exhaustion, loss of meaning in work, and feelings of ineffectiveness," lead researcher Tait Shanafelt said in a statement. "What we found is that more physicians in almost every specialty are feeling this way and that's not good for them, their families, the medical profession, or patients."
Burnout rates increased across all specialties, but rates of depression and suicidal thoughts stayed fairly flat. Dermatologists reported the highest increase: 24.7 percentage points over the three years. In 2014, the highest rate of burnout was in urology, at 63.6%, while the highest rate of burnout in 2011 was family medicine, at about 51%.
According to the report, physician burnout can lead to physician turnover, poor care, and a decline in the quality of the health care system.
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"If a research study identified a system-based problem that potentially decreased patient safety for 50% of medical encounters, we would swiftly move to address the problem," Shanafelt says. "That is precisely the circumstance we are in, and we need an appropriate system level response."
"American medicine is at a tipping point," he added.
According to the report, there is too great a focus on self-help solutions, such as physician self-care or resilience training. Instead, the researchers argued, the overall work environment needs to change to reduce physician burnout, including by:
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