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Doctors' high risk of job burnout could lead to medical errors

Close to half of all doctors in the U.S. report experiencing at least some symptoms of job burnout. While all of us feel a little burned out at work sometimes, the burnout rate for doctors in Maryland and elsewhere appears to be higher than for other segments of the working population. And fatigue and other problems can diminish the quality of care doctors provide to patients and result in errors and medical malpractice.

These were the results of a recently published study based on the responses of 7,288 doctors to a survey conducted last year. Symptoms reported by many doctors included a loss of enthusiasm or interest in their work, feelings that they are not accomplishing as much as they would like, a feeling of depersonalization that sometimes expresses itself as cynicism, and emotional exhaustion. Unfortunately, these symptoms may also be reasons some doctors contemplate early retirement, which may lead to difficulties since the growing population of older persons requires more medical care and more doctors.

About 45.8 percent of responding doctors reported one or more symptoms of job burnout. Emotional exhaustion was reported by 37.9 percent of those in the study, with 29.4 percent experiencing a high incidence of depersonalization. Another 12.4 percent admitted to feeling that they were personally accomplishing far less than they would like. This burnout rate appears to be running higher than the 30 to 40 percent rate reported in earlier, similar studies.

Approximately 60 percent of responding doctors involved in what can be regarded as the front lines of medicine, such as family medicine, general internal medicine, and emergency room care, exhibited burnout symptoms.

Doctors, on average, work approximately 10 hours longer a week (50 hours) on average than the rest of the working population. Approximately 37.9 percent of them even work 60 hours a week or more, a burden that only 10.6 percent of the overall working public bears.

People in any profession who experience burnout are prone to making more errors in their work, but in the medical field these mistakes can be deadly. Patients who suffer negative effects of a medication or surgical error should recognize that such mistakes aren't acceptable and could be remedied through a medical malpractice claim.

Source: CNN Health, "Is your doctor burned out?" Alexandra Sifferlin, Aug. 28, 2012

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