Reducing Physician Burnout
Physician burnout is more than simply a feeling of being stressed out. Burnout is actually a long-term stress reaction that presents through severe emotional exhaustion, a feeling of depersonalization, and the absence of feeling personally accomplished. This has become quite a hot topic recently, and for good reason. Physicians who are experiencing burnout are not only struggling themselves, but they also pose a potential danger to their co-workers and patients. For this reason, it’s imperative to work to alleviate physician burnout, but first, it’s important to know how common it is and what the signs of burnout are. Let’s get started.
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How common is physician burnout?
Studies vary somewhat on the exact statistics regarding physician burnout, but the general consensus is that nearly half of all physicians are feeling burned out, with Medscape’s 2019 National Physicians Burnout & Depression Report landing at a little more than 40% of physicians overall reporting feelings of burnout. When broken down by gender, burnout seems to be slightly more prevalent among female physicians than their male counterparts, with 50% of female physicians reporting feeling burned out, compared to 39% of male physicians.
Some of the greatest disparities in prevalence exist among specialties, with the highest rates of burnout being found among Urologists (54%) and the lowest rates among Public Health & Preventive Medicine practitioners (28%). Clearly differences in caseload, the prevalence of high-pressure situations, and potential for terminal cases are likely to have an effect on the odds of burnout being experienced.
What are the signs of physician burnout?
Generally speaking, there are three main symptoms of physician burnout. The first is extreme exhaustion, with the physician’s energy being incredibly low, leaving them feeling as though they’re in a downward spiral. Many physicians experiencing burnout will find themselves thinking, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep going this way.” The next symptom is a feeling of depersonalization, with physicians feeling sarcastic and cynical and having a need to vent about their patients and position. These physicians have a hard time feeling compassion for the patients they’re aging for because simply put, they have no more emotional stamina. The third general symptom of physician burnout is a perceived lack of effectiveness. When physicians are experiencing this symptom, they’re likely to think that their work is meaningless. They will cease to see the point of their position.
How can we alleviate physician burnout?
First of all, we need to put processes in place to optimize the workflow in medical practices so that less of the burden is put squarely on physicians’ shoulders. There are a few ways to do this, with the first being to spread the burden of work in practice among the clinical staff. Next, consider setting up some standard work roles in the practice so that tasks can be reallocated to other members of the staff and don’t fall through the cracks. Finally, limit the effort it takes to communicate among a patient’s care team by keeping staff in the same location and harnessing technology to streamline communication as much as possible.
The next way to alleviate physician burnout is through the use of technology to automate tasks, better serve patients, and ease the burden on providers. Technology today can be used to redirect care through means such as telemedicine, reducing the number of face-to-face appointments for which providers must be scheduled. Technology can also streamline workflows and make administrative tasks less burdensome. Finally, technology can restructure patient data in such a way as to make it more easily navigable and useful for providers when they are working with patients.
Another important piece of alleviating physician burnout is to optimize the use of EMRs. When used to their greatest potential, EMRs have the capacity to ease physician burden. In order to use EMR in this way, one of the first things a practice must do is work hard during and immediately after the implementation to be sure that the EMR works well for your practice and its existing workflow. If it doesn’t, make changes until it does. Also, make sure your EMR allows you to automate tasks such as importing patient information such as lab results and having claims automatically started by the EMR. Finally, make sure the workload within the EMR is distributed in a way that makes sense and keeps the bulk of documentation from falling onto the physicians’ shoulders.
Finally, alleviating physician burnout falls on the shoulders of leadership to create programs and implement training that will address this issue. First, the leadership in an organization must be aware of burnout, its symptoms, the dangers associated with it, and be prepared to address it in a meaningful way. Next, organizations should work to foster a feeling of community among the physicians in their practice. Finally, provide resources that promote self-care for physicians and encourage your physicians to have a good work/life balance.
Clearly, physician burnout is a major problem and one that can have dire consequences for both the physicians suffering and their patients. It’s important for healthcare organizations to be aware of what burnout is, what it looks like, and how often it might happen, as well as how to alleviate it. Organizations can also help to ease this burden from providers by harnessing the power of technology to alleviate their workload and make their days less demanding. SolutionsHub provides many of the technological tools that can achieve this goal. To learn more, visit henryscheinsolutionshub.com or call 833-433-2482.