Exploring the Impact of Primary Care Physician Burnout and Well-Being on Patient Care: A Focus Group Study

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Abstract

Objectives

The aims of the study were (1) to explore whether primary care physicians (general practitioners [GPs]) perceive burnout and well-being to impact on the quality and safety of patient care and (2) to determine potential mechanisms behind these associations.

Method

Five focus groups with 25 practicing GPs were conducted in England, either in the participants' practice or in a private meeting room outside of their workplace.

Method

An interview schedule with prompts was followed with questions asking how participants perceive GP burnout and poor well-being could impact on patient care delivery. Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results

General practitioners believed that poor well-being and burnout affect the quality of care patients receive through reducing doctors' abilities to empathize, to display positive attitudes and listening skills, and by increasing the number of inappropriate referrals made. Participants also voiced that burnout and poor well-being can have negative consequences for patient safety, through a variety of mechanisms including reduced cognitive functioning and decision-making abilities, a lack of headspace, and fatigue. Furthermore, it was suggested that the relationship between well-being/burnout and mistakes is likely to be circular.

Conclusions

Further research is needed to ascertain the validity of these perceptions. If found, physicians, healthcare organizations, and policy makers should examine how they can improve physician well-being and prevent burnout, because this may be a route to ensure high-quality and safe patient care.

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