In a systematic review (based on studies of 45 countries) entitled “Prevalence of Burnout Among Physicians“, published in JAMA Network, 18 September, 2018, “Burnout prevalence data were extracted from 182 studies involving 109 628 individuals in 45 countries published between 1991 and 2018 (read our perspective on physicians in the U.S. HERE), the authors described the amplitude of the issue.  In all,

  • 85.7% (156/182) of studies used a version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to assess burnout. Studies variably reported prevalence estimates of overall burnout or burnout subcomponents:
  • 67.0% (122/182) on overall burnout, 72.0% (131/182) on emotional exhaustion,
  • 68.1% (124/182) on depersonalization, and
  • 63.2% (115/182) on low personal accomplishment.”(See HERE the entire Review)

Now a recent article publised in NPR, May 31, 2019, titled What’s Doctor Burnout Costing America? approach the issue from a economical point of view. This article shows the economic magnitude of the issue which is only a part of the problem and that Doctor burnout is costing the U.S. health care system a lot — roughly $4.6 billion a year, according to a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Everybody who goes into medicine knows that it’s a stressful career and that it’s a lot of hard work, says Lotte Dyrbye, a physician and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who co-authored the study.

She says the medical profession now carries an increasing load of paperwork and bureaucracy, adding stress to doctor’s lives. ’We want to be able to deliver good quality care to our patients, and our systems get in the way,’.

The study defines burnout as substantial symptoms of ‘emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. This description tracks closely with the World Health Organization’s newly updated definition for burnout.

To put a price on burnout, the study authors culled data from recent research findings and reports — including direct or inferred findings on doctors cutting back on hours or quitting as a result of burnout. They ran a mathematical model to estimate the costs associated with burnout, focusing on the costs of replacing physicians and lost income from unfilled positions”.

How might this issue affect public health?

We believe this issue has relevant implications from a bioethical point of view. In this sense, we cite an Editorial from the Annals of Internal Medicine, entitled “Beyond the Economics of Burnout” published this week, which states that, “Physician burnout has the potential to dramatically increase the cost of care to both patients and the healthcare delivery system. Expenses related to physician staffing are a substantial driver of healthcare costs, and physician burnout contributes to those costs. An unwell and unhappy workforce may result in high turnover and replacement, low-quality care, a high risk for medical errors and malpractice claims, and suboptimal patient outcomes.”