Most Sleep Disorders in Radiologists Go Undiagnosed and Untreated

November 2, 2020
Whitney J. Palmer

Among providers, including radiologists, who test positive for a sleep disorder, more than 90 percent have been undiagnosed and untreated.

Sleep is a significant contributor to overall health, and a new study has found that a substantial portion of doctors, including radiologists, are living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

Not only can sleep problems impact physical functioning, but it can also lead to poor mental health, said a group of sleep experts from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Of all the physicians screening for sleep disorders, they said, more than 90 percent came back positive for a disorder that was undiagnosed and untreated.

The team, led by Matthew D. Weaver, Ph.D., MPH, an associate epidemiologist in the Sleep and Circadian Disorders division at Brigham and Women’s, published their findings in JAMA Network Open.

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Suffering from a sleep disorder places providers at an increased risk for burnout and job dissatisfaction. It is well known that burnout already plagues radiologists due to workload and the demands of imaging utilization. In fact, a study published recently in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety determined that 44 percent of radiologists show at least one sign of burnout.

“Sleep deficiency is common – often a consequence of rotating or extended-duration shifts, night call, and competing demands,” said Weaver’s team. “Sleep disturbance is a predictor of depression, and insufficient sleep may contribute to the development of burnout.”

Consequently, they noted, these factors indicate that sleep deficiency could be playing an underlying role in the poor mental health and physicians frequently experience.

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In order to determine the impact of poor sleep, the team conducted a cross-sectional study. They designed a Sleep Health and Wellness program and presented it to several hospital departments. After these presentations, 1,047 providers were screened for sleep disorders, and Weaver’s team analyzed the severity of their burnout, as well as how fulfilled they were at work.

Providers were screened from May 2018 to May 2019. Based on their evaluation, roughly 29 percent of providers – 313 of individuals – received a positive score for at least one sleep disorder. Insomnia was the leading condition at 14 percent, but what was more surprising and concerning, Weaver's team said, was that 92 percent of physicians who were positive for a sleep disorder were undiagnosed and going without treatment.

The team also determined that these undiagnosed providers were at a four-fold increased likelihood of experiencing burnout, and they were half as likely to have job fulfillment.

Fortunately, the team said, sleep health programs do exist to help providers, and they recommended hospital departments implement such initiatives to help their providers who are suffering from sleep deficiency.

“This study suggests that undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders are associated with occupational burnout among healthcare providers,” the authors concluded. “Future studies should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of a sleep health and wellness program on reducing burnout symptoms.”

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