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Ensuring Your Physicians Don’t Sink to Burnout

August 7, 2018

It’s a topic that’s everywhere these days, physician burnout. You might read that the secret to fighting physician burnout is organizing around a cause, or that doctors that practice in small independent primary care practices report lower levels of burnout compared to the national average. Another is that telemedicine may be a cure for physician burnout, or that EHR systems are the culprit.

Regardless of the cause, physician burnout is a real problem and it appears it’s becoming an epidemic. A 2017 survey revealed that slightly over half (51 percent) of physicians reported frequent feelings of burnout, up from 40 percent in 2013¹. Further, nearly 2 out of 3 US physicians report feeling either burned out (42%), depressed (15%), or both (14%)². These figures are incredible to think about, especially when you note that this is getting worse, not better.

Becoming a physician takes a lot of work. Many years of studying, residencies, and long hours went into these careers, and yet somehow doctors are not finding joy in their work. Most medical professionals chose their line of work because they wanted to help people. So why is it that something many felt called to do is now such a burden?

Like many first-time mothers, I read books and did everything in my power to ensure my child was healthy and had the best start. When it came time to choose a doctor for him, I went to the medical group I went to as a child, one that I was 32 years comfortable with. Though I didn’t formally interview the pediatrician I ultimately decided upon, as many books recommended, I did what I felt was a thorough assessment of the pediatricians seeing new patients. Initially, I was very pleased with my choice. However, over time I noticed longer wait times, and when we were with the pediatrician she would mention a new documentation procedure, the complexity of the new EHR system, or how it was increasingly difficult to find the time to engage with patients/families. It seemed things had changed over the ten years we saw her, and I could very much sense the frustration in her voice.

While I am sure she still loved her job, I look back on those ten years and can see a considerable difference in the early years compared to the years leading up to her retirement. Was her joy still there in caring for children like it once was? What happened? Why was she voicing frustrations to her patients and their families? As I’ve spent my career in the PX world, these are the things I think about as I navigate the healthcare system on a personal level. I wonder if my lifelong medical group is aware of these types of interactions and if they are doing anything to ensure their physicians aren’t sinking to burnout.

Professional Research Consultants helps healthcare organizations monitor physician engagement and alignment and can help your organization get a pulse on your physicians before burnout happens. Together with PRC, you can transform insights into action plans designed to improve physician relationships, encourage engagement, and reach organizational goals–learn more here.

1 Medscape Annual Survey 2017

2 Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018