Physician burnout is a major threat to healthcare. Instead of spending most of their time treating patients, physicians spend countless hours checking data points and documenting into computer systems. The administrative tasks seem to never end in today’s digital world, resulting in physician burnout at an alarmingly high rate.
A 2019 Medscape survey of 15,000 physicians found 44 percent of participants report feelings of burnout and an additional 15 percent experience symptoms of or meet the diagnostic criteria for depression. However, other sources reveal rates as high as 78 percent. In addition, physician burnout can have a disastrous impact on patient quality and continuity of care. Therefore, healthcare administrators and private practitioners need to understand the causes of burnout, the potential effects, and ways to reduce it.
The Causes of Physician Burnout
Burnout is the result of excess stress and exhaustion in a career or activity. High depersonalization also characterizes burnout, and this problem is growing amongst physicians. A recent report from the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association described physician burnout as a public health crisis.
The causes of burnout vary. Medscape lists the causes of burnout and the prevalence of these causes as reported in the 2019 survey. These include:
- Spending too much time with “bureaucratic tasks,” such as charting and administrative tasks (59 percent).
- Working too many hours. (34 percent).
- Increased computerization of practice, such as electronic health records (EHRs) use (32 percent).
- Lack of respect from colleagues, staff, employers, or healthcare administrators (30 percent).
- Insufficient payment for services or reimbursement (29 percent).
- Loss of control and autonomy over their practices (23 percent).
- Increasing government regulations regarding healthcare treatment and documentation (20 percent).
- Increased emphasis on profits over patient outcomes (17 percent).
- Lack of respect from patients (16 percent).
It may seem mandates for EHRs and spending too much time working bear the primary responsibility for physician burnout, but physician burnout is not a new issue. Increased focus on EHRs and subsequent factors simply pushed the problem higher to where it gained additional attention. Unfortunately, it can have serious effects on patients and healthcare professionals.
The Effects of Physician Burnout
Physician burnout affects patient care, interactions with other healthcare professionals, accuracy in charting, time management capabilities, and more. Up to 47 percent of physicians report becoming easily exasperated with their patients, and 26 percent do not spend enough time in completing patient notes. Others (16 percent) become visibly frustrated with patients, and 14 percent make errors that would have not occurred otherwise.
The effects on patient care can range from frustration to mistakes in charting that could result in a life-threatening emergency.
For example, medications that have similar names and spelling could become confused, such as mistakes when prescribing clonidine versus klonopine.
Other potential effects on patient care depend on the activity and its risks. The feeling of burnout could impact the ability to perform surgical procedures, create care plans, and influence other tasks that may result in harm to patients.
The effects of physician burnout also impact coworkers and staff. Up to 47 percent of physicians become infuriated with staff, and 40 percent visibly express that frustration. An additional 20 percent arrive late to work, placing additional stresses on staff and increasing the risk to patients.
Ways to Reduce Physician Burnout
Steps to reduce physician burnout boil down to two categories—actions to take in your personal, non-work life and those to take in the work environment.
Personal steps to reduce burnout include:
- Take time to relax. Relaxation does not only mean spending at the masseuse. Try to reserve a block of time every day to do nothing.
- Exercise. Exercise offers benefits to the psyche and your physical health at the same time. It also helps to relieve frustrations that may have occurred at work.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet can be difficult when experiencing burnout. It is easy to turn to high-fat and high-carb foods; remember to limit them as much as possible.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco. The final tip is primarily about avoiding harmful activities that can grow into an addiction.
Overcoming physician burnout and preventing it from recurring in the work environment:
- Work appropriate hours. Try to avoid bringing work home with you. Take emergency calls when necessary. However, do not sign up for too many extra, on-call shifts.
- Consider changing the work setting. Sometimes a change in the work setting, even a fresh coat of paint, can work wonders for your mood.
- Make workflow or process changes to reduce stress. Changing workflows or staff processes can alleviate stress from excess administrative tasks. Also, delegate administrative tasks when possible.
- Take advantage of hospital or administrative services and support groups to reduce burnout. This tip applies to physicians working for third-party companies. Hospitals and administrative services may offer support programs to combat burnout.
The next work-related steps apply to the EHR in use in your practice
- Complete thorough training of the EHR. Make sure you know how to use and avail all the benefits provided by your modern EHR. This includes add ons like text reminders, patient portals and more. Complete a thorough training session and implementation process for the system; ensure that your staff members do the same too.
- Use an EHR that provides efficient Medical Billing – The Medical Billing Services or Revenue Cycle Management will reduce your financial burden and increase the bottom-line of your practice.
- Use templates and shortcuts. The ability to create customized workflows, use templates, and take shortcuts in the EHR is a wonderful way to reduce frustrations and speed up the documentation process.
- Choose a high-quality, low-maintenance EHR. The last step may be the simplest, yet it may also be the one step you had not thought of in the past. If your EHR does not contain the characteristics noted above, it may be time to upgrade or replace the system in its entirety. Moreover, your EHR should be easy to maintain, reducing disruptions to the clinical settings and offering an intuitive, and user-friendly experience.
Take Care of Yourself by Reducing Your Risk of Burnout With a One-Stop-Shop EHR Now
Physician burnout will only continue to grow as practices use outdated, difficult-to-navigate EHRs and patient systems. Moreover, the damage from burnout left unchecked will become more evident as people realize physician burnout adversely affects healthcare, including the potential for loss of life. It is not too late to address the problem of burnout. Do something about it by following the tips outlined above. Also, remember to take time off to renew your physical and mental health.