The medical profession demands constant excellence in performance, intelligence and detachment. Failure can be disastrous to a doctor’s career, and more importantly, to patients.
It is no wonder that Florida physicians often have a higher risk of burnout than professionals in other industries. Moreover, when untreated burnout becomes apathy, the consequences can be disastrous for patient safety.
What causes physician burnout?
According to Forbes, the modern medical system has created a culture predisposed to physician burnout. Technological advances in imaging and testing have dramatically improved patient diagnostics. However, they have removed the challenge of investigating symptoms that inherently over-achieving doctors desire.
Computerized equipment and electronic record-keeping enable the distribution of comparative-performance reports to medical professionals. Doctors who performed at the top of their class in medical college may find themselves labeled as average compared to other physicians in their field. This fosters an atmosphere of competition where the goal becomes outperforming peers, not treating patients.
On top of all this, the broken medical insurance system that buries doctors in administrative duties and prevents them from spending time with patients. This culture can lead to an overburden of stress and anxiety, and physicians begin to burn out.
How does burnout affect patient safety?
The National Institutes of Health characterize physician burnout with three traits: reduced feelings of accomplishment, emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Constant comparison against other doctors can make any physician feel incompetent. Repeated failure to achieve an unattainable standard of perfection can also lead to emotional exhaustion. Doctors may begin to believe they will never catch up to the demands of their workload and the expectations of the medical culture. As physicians feel like they have nothing left to give, they may start to treat their patients as objects instead of people. Known as depersonalization, it frequently manifests as skepticism, pessimism and even hostility towards patients. Studies show that these adverse symptoms of physician burnout increase the risk of serious medical errors two-fold.