Approximately one-third of physicians experience characteristics of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, which often led to leaving practice and receiving ombudsman complaints, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Physician burnout is increasingly recognized as a systemic health care problem,” Amy K. Windover, PhD, from Center for Excellence Healthcare Communication at Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues wrote. “Prior research has identified the adverse impact on physician health and patient care. Recently, studies have begun to examine the impact on health care delivery.”
Windover and colleagues investigated the correlates and outcomes of physician burnout in inpatient, primary care and specialty care using data from the Cleveland Clinic Health System.
They recruited 1,145 physicians who completed a communication skills course and the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which measures burnout in domains such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. The outcomes assessed included leaving the organization, productivity, receipt of ombudsman complaints and patient satisfaction with physician communication. Patient satisfaction was evaluated using Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems surveys.
The researchers found that overall burnout, defined as having an emotional exhaustion score of 27 or more and/or depersonalization score of 10 or more, was present in 35% of physicians. Physicians with emotional exhaustion were more likely to leave the organization (OR = 2.19; 95% CI, 1.14-4.18). Conversely, emotional exhaustion was associated with greater patient satisfaction with primary care physician communication (beta = 11.5; 95% CI, 2.31-20.8).
“A positive association between emotional exhaustion and patient satisfaction is not surprising,” Windover and colleagues wrote. “Physicians who give more to patients during clinical encounters may find themselves emotionally depleted.”
Physicians demonstrating depersonalization received more ombudsman complaints (OR = 1.72; 95% CI, 1.02-2.89). Burnout and productivity and patient satisfaction and inpatient or specialty care were not significantly associated.
“Our findings have important implications for physician retention and health care delivery that have resulted in enterprise-wide mobilization and coordination of efforts to improve physician well-being... Given similarities between Cleveland Clinic and other major health systems, routine assessment of burnout by health care organizations is warranted to identify the need for additional individual and organizational support,” Windover and colleagues concluded. – by Alaina Tedesco
The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.