Physician burnout

3 Ways to Cure Burnout

“Physicians get burned out?  No way!”  The average human believes their doctor is always on top of their game and does not suffer from the same afflictions that haunt everyday workers.  They believe physicians are more intelligent, wiser, and wealthier, leading to more happiness.  Shockingly, physicians are human too and suffer the same feelings as ordinary workers.  These feelings can lead to burnout.  Stress, fatigue, repetition, and exhaustion are a few symptoms.  However, we will give you 3 ways to cure burnout.

What does Physician Burnout Feel Like

The World Health Organization concludes that burnout is not a psychiatric disorder but more of a syndrome.  It is the measure of chronic distress associated with the job.  Empathy towards patients and peers turns into cynicism, negativity, and being emotionally numb.  Moreover, being emotionally exhausted leads to irritability and downheartedness.  Lastly, it can creep into your job where you feel professionally ineffective.

Burnout can lead to many unhealthy feelings towards you, your family, peers, friends, and patients.  A study in 2016 polled medical students in 47 different countries and found that 11% are depressed.  The range was between 7.4% and 24.2%.  In the United States, the study noted that medical students were 2-5 times greater to have depression.  Sadly, the study found that 15% of medical students reported suicidal thoughts during their medical education. An article from the Agency of Healthcare and Quality has more information on burnout.

https://www.ahrq.gov/prevention/clinician/ahrq-works/burnout/index.html

Which Physicians have the Highest Burnout

The American Medical Association surveyed 15,000 physicians in 29 different specialties to determine which experienced the most burnout.  For the most stressful medical job, the highest percentages of burnout occurred among these medical specialties:

  1. Critical Care: 48% 
  2. Neurology: 48% 
  3. Family Medicine: 47% 
  4. Obstetrics and Gynecology: 46% 
  5. Internal Medicine: 46% 
  6. Emergency Medicine: 45%

physician burnout

What Causes Physician Burnout?

  1. Time Pressure:  Nearly all physicians in the study above reported having time pressures when conducting physical examinations.  33% said they needed 50% more time for follow-up appointments.  In the United States, being a physician is a volume business.  The more you see, the more you get paid.  There is a strong correlation between low control over work pace, chaotic environments, negative organizational control, burnout, and leaving the profession.
  1. Electronic Medical (Health) Records or EMRs or EHRs:  The belief that EMRs allow physicians to use a computer to document a patient’s chart or medical record would add less hassle for a physician is not valid.  Since the passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act in 2009, the amount of time needed to document has doubled.  EMR gets regarded as an aide against malpractice suits and increased billing speed; however, physicians spend more time on documentation than on seeing the patients.  Also, patients now have round-the-clock access to email their physician.  In essence, this can mean a physician never truly leaves the office.
  1. Medical Education Traits: You are a nonstop workaholic once you start medical school.  You eat, breathe and drink medicine.  There is rarely time to think about anything social for the next seven years.  The rigor of these seven years hardwires character traits such as a superhero, perfectionist, and lone ranger.  Over time, the pressure of these traits can grind on you.  Even Spiderman needs to get away!
  1. Having a Life:  How does a physician recharge their batteries each day?  We know that ignoring our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs can negatively impact our lives.  EMRs follow the physician home, where they need to email patients or write in their charts.  Small chores at home seem to be mountains to climb, such as a child’s illness, yard work, home/auto repairs, or financial pressures.  Not separating work and life can have severe consequences if not properly managed.

 

3 Ways to Cure Physician Burnout

 

  •  Get Out of the Physical and Virtual Office:  Scheduling regular date nights with your spouse is an excellent start.  Pay the babysitter or call family to watch your children.  Getting away for a short period is a must-do and should be done once a month—also, schedule vacations for relaxation and recuperation.  You can go on those European vacations, but those can be stressful trying to cram in the sights.  Slip away to the mountains or the beach and relax.  Or implement a sabbatical policy into your practice.  Carve out time for exercise.  Physical activity can substantially reduce the stress that accumulates.  Everyone needs to refill their energy account, and so do you.

 

  • Outsource EMRs:  EMRs take up the most time in a physician’s day.  Hire a scribe or medical assistant to enter patient medical data, track forms, and send faxes to other doctors to spend more face-to-face time with your patients.  The last thing you want to deal with is technology issues.  Implement an EMR with a helpful technology customer service team.  The customer service needs to be A+ at training individuals on using the system appropriately.  Workflows should be streamlined and easy to maneuver for each user.

 

  • Teamwork: Teamwork-based working conditions led to several studies showing less burnout.  Offering team-based care, using scribes for EMR, and improving communication among physicians resulted in burnout dropping from 43% to 14%.  Having a practice with multiple physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can lower the time required for a physician to be in the office.

Conclusion

 

Burnout takes a toll on nearly 50% of physicians across the US.  If left untreated, burnout leads to severe consequences for physicians and their patients.  Time pressure on visits, lack of control, electronic health record stress, and poor work-home balance can lead to physicians leaving practices they once loved, poor patient outcomes and shortages in primary care physicians.  There is not a quick and easy solution for burnout.  However, burnout is curable with the proper management of the symptoms that cause it!

About The Author

Jordan Benold, CFP® provides fee-only financial planning and investment management services in Frisco, TX.  Benold Financial Planning serves clients as a fiduciary and never earns a commission or sells a product.  Jordan has over three years of experience as a financial advisor in Frisco.

 

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