Unclear link between physician burnout, care quality: Study

A study involving physician surveys and Medicare claims data found no consistent relationship between burnout and patient outcomes, according to findings published in the April edition of Health Affairs.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and the University of Kentucky in Lexington hypothesized that patients of family physicians reporting more frequent burnout or callousness would have higher annual Medicare costs and higher rates of three outcomes: ambulatory care sensitive admissions, or those that could have been prevented with high-quality care; preventable emergency department visits and 30-day all-cause hospital readmissions. They conducted the study by linking survey data from 1,604 family physicians to claims from more than 32,000 Medicare beneficiaries. 

Findings showed no consistent, statistically significant link between self-reported burnout and measures of care. 

"Surprisingly, we found that physicians who reported at least some frequency, or even a high frequency, of burnout had generally lower rates of undesirable outcomes," the researchers said, adding, "It may be that physicians who report at least some burnout are highly conscientious and give extra effort to providing good care to their patients." 

Researchers emphasized that the findings in no way suggest it is beneficial for physicians to feel burned out or that efforts to cut burnout are not important. 

"Our findings suggest that the relationship between burnout and outcomes is complex and requires further investigation," they conclude. 

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