Utility of a brief screening tool to identify physicians in distress

J Gen Intern Med. 2013 Mar;28(3):421-7. doi: 10.1007/s11606-012-2252-9. Epub 2012 Nov 6.


Background: Despite a high prevalence of distress, few physicians seek help. Earlier identification of physicians in distress has been hampered by the lack of a brief screening instrument to assess the common forms of distress.

Objective: To evaluate the ability of the seven-item Physician Well-Being Index (PWBI) to i) stratify physician well-being in several important dimensions (mental quality of life [QOL], fatigue, suicidal ideation); and ii) identify physicians whose degree of distress may negatively impact their practice (career satisfaction, intent to leave current position, medical errors).

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Participants: National sample of 6,994 U.S. physicians.

Main measures: PWBI, Mental QOL, fatigue, suicidal ideation, career satisfaction,and clinical practice measures.

Key results: Physicians with low mental QOL, high fatigue, or recent (< 12 months) suicidal ideation were more likely to endorse each of the seven PWBI items and a greater number of total items (all P < 0 .001). Assuming a prevalence of 19 %, the PWBI could reduce the post-test probability of a physician having low mental QOL to < 1 % or raise it to > 75 %. The likelihood ratio for low mental QOL among physicians with PWBI scores ≥ 4 was 3.85 in comparison to 0.33 for those with scores < 4. At a threshold score of >4, the PWBI's specificity for identifying physicians with low mental QOL, high fatigue, or recent suicidal ideation were 85.8 %. PWBI score also stratified physicians' career satisfaction, reported intent to leave current practice, and self-reported medical errors.

Conclusions: The seven-item PWBI appears to be a useful screening index to identify physicians with distress in a variety of dimensions and whose degree of distress may negatively impact their practice.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / diagnosis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation*
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician Impairment / psychology*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Quality of Life
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis*
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • United States
  • Work Schedule Tolerance