Large international study finds burnout impacts patient safety, physician job satisfaction

By MDLinx staff
Published September 16, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • A new study found doctors going through burnout are more likely to experience job dissatisfaction and be involved in patient safety incidents.

  • This research, which reviewed 170 studies on burnout involving over 239,000 doctors, also found that younger doctors working in hospitals, especially those in intensive care and emergency medicine, were more prone to burnout and job woes.

  • These findings have prompted calls for systemic change including interventions to improve medical work environments for physician mental wellness.

Physician burnout is undermining patient safety and leading to career dissatisfaction and turnover, according to a new international study that has medical experts calling for urgent action to protect patients, physicians, and health systems.

According to a report published on September 14, 2022, by The British Medical Journal (BMJ), physicians with burnout are twice as likely to impact patient safety, and four times as likely to be unhappy in their jobs.[]

This report, called “the largest and most comprehensive systematic review and analysis of studies on the subject [of physician burnout] to date” by the BMJ, was conducted by Greek and UK researchers to determine the connections between burnout, physician career engagement, and global patient care quality.[]

The researchers analyzed results from 170 observational studies on burnout that involved 239,246 doctors. In addition to its findings about patient safety and career engagement, the study determined that low job satisfaction and burnout were most likely in hospitals among physicians between the ages of 31–50, and those working in intensive care and emergency medicine. The research also found that burnout was least likely among GPs.

Patient safety incidents were most likely to occur with physicians aged 20–30, and those who worked in emergency medicine.

Study limitations cited by the authors included a lack of precise definitions of terms including “professionalism,” “job satisfaction,” and “patient safety,” which differed between the 170 studies that were analyzed and could have led to overestimating their connection to physician burnout.

Still, these findings have stirred up concern among doctors worldwide. In a BMJ editorial, Bonn University professor of patient safety Dr. Matthias Weigl called for systemic change to help prevent further burnout-related problems.[]

"The mental wellbeing of physicians is vital for safe healthcare systems."

Dr. Matthias Weigl

Dr. Weigl also called for “urgent action” such as evidence-based, system-oriented interventions to establish work environments that will prevent burnout and increase staff engagement.

What this means for you

The results of this international study on physician burnout indicate the pervasiveness of this problem and its potential to impact patient safety and doctor job satisfaction, especially in emergency and intensive care settings. Hopefully these findings will inspire hospitals to improve their work environments to prevent burnout and protect patient and physician wellbeing.

Read Next: How to cope with feelings of depression and burnout
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