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Study finds about a third of physicians have been mistreated, leading to burnout

Study finds about a third of physicians have been mistreated
Posted at 11:39 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 12:54:09-04

Going to the doctor's office or hospital can be stressful, but a new study now quantifies how often physicians are mistreated by patients, and how it can lead to burnout.

“In order to care for our population, we need providers that love their job,” Dr. Cleveland Piggott, a family physician and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said.

Dr. Piggott and Dr. Swetha Iruku are both family physicians. They take care of people, but it’s not always so simple.

“I’ve certainly experienced situations in which patients ask me, am I old enough, they've made comments about my skin color. I often experience situations in which I wonder if that would have gone the same way had I looked a little bit different,” Dr. Swetha Iruku, a family medicine fellow at the CU School of Medicine, said.

A new study conducted by Dr. Lotte Dyrbye in collaboration with the American Medical Association focused on physician mistreatment surveyed 6,500 physicians from different backgrounds and found that 30 percent experienced discrimination or mistreatment from a patient or their family members. Dr. Dyrbye said a lot of physicians experienced these incidents in the past year.

“The doctors who had had these experiences of being mistreated, they were much more likely to be burnt out,” Dr. Lotte Dyrby, senior associate dean of faculty and chief well-being officer at the CU School of Medicine, said. She authored the study.

Burnout can affect patient care.

“When doctors are burned out, they are twice as likely to commit a major medical error,” Dr. Dyrbye said.

“The way that physicians deal with this can be anything from depression, cutting back on their hours, choosing not to work in medicine anymore,” Dr. Piggott explained.

To prevent this spiral effect, Dr. Dyrbye is looking at how procedures and training van help in responding to microaggressions, racial remarks, or unwanted sexual advancements.

“You're always sort of walking on eggshells when you confront anyone about a behavior. I think that's true whether you work at a grocery store, or working in health care,” Dr. Dyrbye said. “We need to protect our healthcare workers so they can ultimately deliver really good care to the patient.”

This mistreatment can impact some doctors more than others.

“These sorts of experiences or harassment or mistreatment from patients and families are much more common for our women physicians and our physicians of color,” she said.

The responsibility doesn’t fall on one person. Dr. Dyrbye said there are a number of factors, and everyone can play a part in being a little more kind.

“How can we assure the patients and the families we have within our doors are having their basic needs met? If they're sitting in the emergency department for three hours, are you really going to be that surprised if they maybe are disrespectful towards our staff?” Dr. Dyrbye said. “We need to think holistically about how we can make the whole experience better for everybody.”