The Burnout of Doctors and the Safety Risk for Patients

Recent scientific publications with impressive evidence highlight the problem of the burnout of doctors and make it the number one problem that can have a conceptional impact on public-national health systems (NHS).

Long in time surgeries, difficult and stressful work schedules that too often extend due to a lack of the necessary medical staff (in the NHS)  put doctors-surgeons at high risk of being subjected to so-called “medical error” with unpleasant consequences for the patient and for the surgeon himself.

The burnout syndrome of the surgeons affects not only their personal but also professional life and endangers the safety of patients.

by Thanos S. Chonthrogiannis

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Hybrid Operating Room at Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic in Rome
Photo by Pfree2014, Source: Own work, licensed CC0

The Medical Error or Complication

It is the nature of the surgeon-doctor’s profession that if the operation does not develop as expected in the first place, the consequences that the patient and his family may suffer can easily lead the doctor to the stand accused of “medical error or complication” respectively.

In such a case, a multi-year legal dispute will lead to psychological abyss the doctor, who alone and silently will have to lift the burden of the “cross” for many years.

This weight of “cross” is usually described by surgeons-doctors themselves as a cocktail of negative emotions that includes among other things years of grief, shame, guilt, anger and fury for himself that can lead to suicide and let it be proved at the end of the legal dispute that for the medical mistake or the complication he was not responsible.

The deep silence for all those doctors is the choice they follow is the enclosure of isolation they experience from their family, friendly and generally social environment.

The state usually does not care at all about all these doctors-surgeons so that all of them will essentially return to society, nor does it create support programs to eliminate this “social stigma” of medical error integrating him smoothly and fully mental health within society.

The mute drama that continues

In most cases, the re-enlisted doctor, who has experienced his own personal torture of “medical error or complication”, turns out to be a worse doctor in terms of ways of acting trying to protect himself from a re-emergence of a new medical error.

Worst doctor for his next patients but also for the Public-National Health System in which he operates. No more insistence on treatment and long in time surgeries for the man who needed courage to “uproot” the problem of the disease.

It stops this doctor from seeing himself as a life-saving healer. He prefers to follow the beaten path named by the medical protocols defined on a patient’s case.

The Solutions to the problem

The solutions are difficult because there is the factor of the unexpected in every surgery. But there are solutions that could be implemented to solve this difficult problem:

1. Application of stricter and more detailed medical protocols covering all cases so that the doctor-surgeon can act based on these by drastically reducing the chances of developing the “unexpected” in his work.

2. The example of New Zealand should find imitators all over the world. The State of New Zealand has created a special organisation whose main task is to take on all the financial support of the patient who has suffered a “medical error or medical treatment complication.”

3. In addition, the states could establish a Special Medical Committee where its members will be unknown to the doctor-surgeon in question who has been subjected to a ‘medical error’ but the members of this special medical committee will not be aware of the name and personal data of the doctor under consideration.

The committee should consist of specific multi-experienced hospital doctors and academics who will come from the same country as well as from other countries. The conclusions of this committee should be considered by the judges who will try cases of “medical error” but also by the respective medical associations of the country.

4. To establish a mechanism of all kinds of support for doctors facing the cyclone of medical error or complication. Psychological support as well as changing the working environment without ignoring financial support will greatly help all these doctors to reintegrate themselves psychologically and professionally into society.

This problem if it is not addressed at its root will be giant by drastically reducing the quality services of national health systems to patients by creating doctors who will not dare to treat.

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