Changes in the nation’s health care system are taking a physical, emotional, and psychological toll on doctors, nurses, and other clinicians, who show “substantial symptoms of burnout,” according to a National Academy of Medicine report published in October.
Burnout affects 35 percent to 54 percent of nurses and physicians in the United States, according to Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being, which compiled information from a variety of studies. Among medical students and medical residents, these estimates range from 45 percent to 60 percent, the report’s highlights state.
“Burnout” isn’t a medical diagnosis but a special type of work-related stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. The clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
In the National Academy of Medicine report, signs of burnout include “high depersonalization” or cynicism, in addition to emotional exhaustion and a low sense of accomplishment on the job.
What Causes Burnout in Health Care Workers?
In a nutshell, an imbalance between job demands and resources is responsible for the burnout in doctors and nurses, as well as medical students and trainees, researchers said.
In addition to the general concern and pressure of providing patient care, clinicians must maintain meticulous records and keep up with clerical duties, which many of them are not well-trained to manage, adds the National Institutes of Health.
A “well-intentioned, perfectly reasonable law” becomes a regulation that’s interpreted into a policy, becoming more complex down the line, co-author Vindell Washington, chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, told The Washington Post. For instance, a law about patient privacy evolves into a doctor’s computer terminal ending its session every few minutes, requiring the doctor to log in repeatedly throughout the day, which adds stress and frustration.
“It’s incredibly inefficient, and the workload is unsustainable,” Liselotte Dyrbye, another co-author who is a doctor and researcher at the Mayo Clinic, added in The Washington Post. “The system is built for billing and not taking care of patients.”
The Risks for Providers and Patients
The risks to medical personnel are well-documented, with the suicide rate among U.S. physicians higher than that of any other profession, along with problems such as occupational injury and alcohol abuse.
The Mayo Clinic reports that symptoms of burnout include:
- A change in sleep habits
- Unexplained headaches, or stomach or bowel problems
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to “feel better” or to “simply not feel”
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being noticeably critical or cynical
Burnout among doctors and nurses can also encroach on a patient’s time and care, the report states. A clinician may be distracted or frequently interrupted, disrupting the focus on the patient. This can result in a patient seeing more than one physician as clinicians pick up colleagues’ workloads, as well as medical errors and malpractice lawsuits.
Financially, burnout already costs the nation’s medical system $4.6 billion related to doctors reducing their hours, quitting their jobs, or leaving medicine altogether, according to a study cited in the report.
The report recommends more training at medical and nursing schools for dealing with burnout, better monitoring of clinicians’ well-being, and reducing or eliminating overlapping regulations and paperwork.
Need Legal Advice? Contact a Malpractice Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured due to medical errors caused by a doctor’s or nurse’s burnout, the medical malpractice lawyers at Baker & Gilchrist are here to help. We have more than 70 years of combined litigation experience and the knowledge and skills needed to investigate possible medical mistakes. Please call us now for a free case evaluation.