November 12, 2008 / 12:30 AM / 10 years ago

Counseling can help stressed doctors avoid burnout

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A little bit of counseling and a slight cut in hours goes a long way toward reducing burnout and sick leave among overworked doctors and can help to prevent medical errors, Norwegian researchers reported on Wednesday.

Previous studies have shown doctors have higher rates of depression and suicide than the general population, and the findings published in the British Medical Journal suggest there may be an easy way to make a big impact.

“The importance of early intervention is underlined by the high prevalence of depression and suicide compared with other groups and by their reluctance to seek help,” Karin Roe and colleagues at the Research Institute, Modum Bad in Norway wrote.

“Early intervention could ensure that practicing doctors in trouble get help in time, before their problems interfere with care of patients and give rise to medical errors.”

An influential report by the Institute of Medicine, a government advisory body, in 1999 found that medical errors in U.S. hospitals may account for as many as 98,000 deaths a year.

The study involved 227 stressed doctors who participated in voluntary counseling lasting either a day or a week. About 70 returned for additional counseling.

After a year, the doctors reported less emotional exhaustion and job stress while the number of them on full time sick leave fell to 6 percent from 35 percent. The use of psychotherapy rose to 53 percent from 20 percent.

Reducing the number of work hours after counseling also helped decrease reported burnout among the doctors, the researchers said.

“Our findings indicate that seeking a counseling intervention could be conducive to reduction of burnout among doctors,” the researchers wrote.

Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Paul Casciato

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