Physicians’ burnout and its implications

Physicians often neglect their own health

Out of all people, physicians neglect their health the most. Even if they know they have some issue they tend to ignore or care less. According to a survey including more than 2000 female physicians, nearly half of them were found to have a mental illness at some point and they did not seek treatment for the same.1 This is similar to the “burnout” concept, which is a combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and low personal accomplishment caused by the chronic stress of medical practice. There is a substantial variability in the prevalence estimates of burnout among physicians. Hence, it is an important concern that needs to be highlighted among the practicing physicians.2

Prevalence of burnout among practicing physicians

The concept of burnout is old and emerged in the healthcare sector in the late 1960s.2 The American Medical Association reported that more than 50% of practicing physicians suffer from burnout.3 A higher prevalence of burnout was reported in systemic review data involving 109,628 individuals from 45 countries published between 1991 and 2018 (182 studies).2

Better healthcare is directly linked to physicians’ wellness.4,5 Globally, the reduction in physicians’ wellness expressed as burnout is higher among the practicing physicians. The prevalence of burnout ranges from 20% to over 50% as reported by the internationally studied physicians having burnout.4

Physicians’ well-being and cardiovascular disease in India

A study conducted amongst doctors in Tamil Nadu, India, concluded that doctors and nurses are at the highest risk of cardiovascular diseases because of decreased physical activity and dietary ignorance.6

Around 54% of the doctors’
population are at high risk of
developing cardiovascular
disease

Risks of poor physicians’ wellness7

Lower patient satisfaction and care quality
High risk of medical error rates and malpractice
Frequent switching of jobs
Addiction of alcohol and drugs
Suicide among physicians

Challenges in treating physicians’ burnout5

Most physicians did not have a general practitioner
They felt guilty about reducing their workload
Confused about professional and personal engagements

Addressing the current challenge of physicians’ burnout in India

It is important to identify the warning signs early among the practicing physicians, especially in India as the scenario is very different when compared with the Western world. Moreover, the researchers are not clinicians in Western countries. Also, the clinicians are not teachers or researchers but in India our physicians do all the roles at once. The early signs and symptoms of burnout may include the following:7–9

Summary

A substantial prevalence of burnout exists among physicians. Numerous global studies involving nearly every medical and surgical speciality indicate that 1 in 3 physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time. The adverse effects of physician burnout can be devastating and impact the physician and his innocent patients. Hence, better care and appropriate measures to improve quality of life are required. As a physician, do not miss any symptoms that seem trite or self-indulgent. Regular yoga, meditation, massage therapy or acupuncture are quite helpful in stress management. If early and prompt care is not initiated, burnout can be detrimental to the physician and the organisation (hospital/clinic). Because of this, healthcare facilities have started taking steps to help reduce burnout among their practicing physicians. The core message is that taking care of your wellness can help to improve healthcare practice.

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