Brainstorm Health: Physician Burnout, OxyContin Marketing, 3D Printed Spine Scaffolding

January 16, 2019, 11:01 PM UTC

Hello and happy hump day, readers.

The men and women tasked with treating our maladies are biological beings, too. That (admittedly obvious) reality is highlighted in a new Medscape survey on physician burnout, depression, and suicide.

The report has a pretty depressing conclusion: “Burnout and depression rates among U.S. physicians failed to improve in 2019, despite growing efforts by healthcare organizations, hospitals, and academic centers to address the issue through wellness programs and other interventions,” wrote the authors.

It also points out some glaring discrepancies in how different kinds of doctors deal with the reality of such a high-stress job. For instance, women physicians were considerably more likely (by nearly 30%) to report burnout; perhaps unsurprisingly, a higher number of hours worked correlated with higher burnout rates. The survey examined some 15,000 physicians across 29 medical specialities.

Medscape’s report contains plenty of nuggets worth parsing, including a breakdown of burnout by specialty (urologists, neurologists, and rehab docs reported the highest burnout rates). Strikingly, the main source of this work fatigue stemmed, not necessarily from the challenging nature of patient treatment, but the administrative burdens imposed by hassles such as extensive paperwork (on top of long hours).

But perhaps the most concerning survey finding is how doctors, ironically, may be resistant to treatment. “Fourteen percent of physicians responding said they have thought of suicide. (1% said they have attempted suicide, and 6% preferred not to answer.) The report found that 43% of these physicians spoke to no one about their suicidal thoughts, and only one-third discussed them with a therapist. The equivalent of one doctor per day commits suicide each year,” wrote the authors.

Even extensive medical knowledge can’t seem to supplant the fundamental realities of being a human.

Read on for the day’s news.


Rat model shows promise for 3D printed spine scaffolds. Caveat up front: This is one of those studies that examines rats, not humans. So take it with several grains of salt. But researchers at the University of California, San Diego have been working on a successful proof of concept showing that a form of "nerve scaffolding" could provide tangible benefits to spinal cord injury patients. The technology involves reconnecting nerves that had been severed via a biological bridge, according to Reuters. (Reuters)


Complaint targets Purdue's Sackler clan for opioid deaths. Massachusetts' attorney general has escalated the state's battle with the family that owns Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the powerful opioid OxyContin. The sprawling, nearly-300 page document (partially redacted) alleges that at least eight members of the Sackler family are implicated in abusive marketing schemes that, according to the complaint, helped fuel the opioid addiction epidemic. Among the allegations? A razor-sharp focus on maximizing profits, including pushing for favorable advertising for opioids at doctors' offices. Purdue has retorted that the allegations are aiming to make a scapegoat out of a single company. (NPR)


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