Burnout among health care professionals has been associated with lower quality of care, but the effect may be smaller than it seems, based on data from a meta-analysis of more than 200,000 clinicians.
Previous studies have reported associations between burnout and lower quality of care, but a standardized approach to analyze bias in the studies is lacking, wrote, of Stanford (Calif.) University and colleagues.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers identified 123 publications from 1994 to 2019 with 142 study populations that included 241,553 health care providers.
Emotional exhaustion was the primary predictor for lower quality of care in 75 study populations, and overall burnout and depersonalization were the primary predictors for 56 and 11 study populations, respectively.
In an analysis of 114 unique burnout-quality combinations, 58 showed effects of burnout related to poor-quality care, 6 showed burnout related to high-quality care, and 50 showed no significant effect. Approximately one-third (33%) of the burnout-quality combinations were reported at least three times. In a review of the 46 burnout-quality combinations with primary effect sizes, 24 showed a significant effect of burnout on poor quality of care, 1 showed a significant effect of burnout on high quality of care, and 21 showed no significant effect.
The researchers also tested study bias using the Ioannidis test and found “an excess of observed versus predicted statistically significant studies (73% observed vs. 62%).”
The findings were limited by several factors, including the use of many cross-sectional, observational studies that could not show causality, the researchers noted. However, the results suggest several implications for future research including the need to consider exaggerated effects and reduce bias.
“Although the effect sizes in the published literature are modestly strong, our finding of excess significance implies that the true magnitude may be smaller than reported, and the studies that attempted to lower the risk of bias demonstrate fewer significant associations than the full evidence base,” the researchers noted.
“Whether curtailing burnout improves quality of care, or whether improving quality of care reduces burnout, is not yet known, and adequately powered and designed randomized trials will be indispensable in answering these questions,” they concluded.
The study was supported by the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute. Dr. Tawfik disclosed grants from Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute during the study period.
SOURCE: Tawfik DS et al. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Oct 8. doi: 10.7326/M19-1152.