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Doctor burnout may be putting Oregon patients at risk

Despite remarkable improvements in medical technology, patients in Oregon and nationwide continue to be injured by medical negligence, such as surgical errors. A new survey suggests that doctor burnout may be a prime culprit.

The survey was led by researchers from the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association, who recently published its results in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Called the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the survey posed 22 questions to 7,288 physicians regarding how long they worked each week, how satisfied they were with their work-life balance, and whether they had symptoms of depression. Nearly 1 in 2 reported at least one symptom of burnout.

To be sure, burnout can be driven by working long hours. In that regard, the survey found that physicians typically worked about 50 hours per week -- including weekends -- compared to the general population's 40-hour workweek.

However, the survey's researchers also found that factors related to the nature of physicians' work duties greatly influenced the risk of burnout. For example, doctors and surgeons in the frontline specialties of emergency medicine, general internal medicine and family medicine reported an even higher rate of burnout, at nearly 60%. Regarding depression symptoms, 37.9% of physicians indicated high emotional exhaustion, 29.4% had high depersonalization, and 12.4% reported a low sense of personal accomplishment.

The findings concern researchers because previous studies of physicians from individual specialties suggested a burnout rate of 30% to 40%. According to one of the study's authors at the Mayo Clinic, the increase in burnout rates is alarming because extensive literature has linked burnout to medical errors and a lower quality of patient care.

Source: CNN, "Is your doctor burned out?" Alexandra Sifferlin, Aug. 23, 2012

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