Physician burnout is on the rise as already overburdened doctors add EHR administration and health care reform research to their to-do list. Is there a cure?
Physicians have always had one of the most tiring, demanding and draining occupations on earth, what with their long hours, 24/7 availability and yes, emotionally draining cases, especially those involving children.
A recent article in the Minnesota Star Tribune by Jeremy Olson, featured a Fergus Falls pediatrician on the brink of a mental, physical and emotional breakdown.
“I literally saw every way a kid could get killed,” said the doctor.
Yet, according to the article, a series of new studies in Minnesota point to a new, rather disturbing trend, where experienced physicians are throwing in their stethoscopes and choosing early retirement.
- Pressure to adopt new technology such as electronic health records
- Feeling like a failure for not "keeping up"
- Time spent on administrative tasks and researching health care reform
- No time left for family, friends and recreation
The newspaper referred to an "epidemic" of stressed out, burned out physicians.
In a national survey released this month by Vital Work Life, a St. Louis employee assistance company, and Cejka Search, the percentage of physicians reporting severe stress increased from 38 percent in 2011 to 46 percent in 2014. What's worse, says the study, is that patient safety is at risk.
The field of medicine is intense, stressful and demanding; some stress factors are out of the physicians’ and their organizations’ control. - Mitchell Best, CEO of Vital Work Life
The survey on Physician Stress and Burnout, completed by over 2,000 physicians, found that only 18.5 percent of physicians believe their organizations are helping to deal effectively with this issue and more than half, 52.2 percent, say they find it difficult to find time to use the initiatives offered.
- 48 percent of doctors cited health care reform as their top stressor
- 46 percent cited paperwork administrative demands as stressors
- 57 percent cited concerns about work/life balance
Aye, here’s the rub.
According to the study, about half of health care organizations provide wellness initiatives to assist physicians with managing stress, however, physicians reported it is difficult to find time to use them. Talk about a Catch 22.
While their burden increases, the survey shows only a small number of physician support systems implemented by health care organizations are successful in helping physicians combat stressors. This impacts recruitment and retention, as well as workplace satisfaction and patient care. – John Gramer, President, Cejka Search.
The company lists these seven signs that physicians may be burning out:
- You have a high tolerance to stress.
- Your practice is exceptionally chaotic.
- You don’t agree with your boss’ values or leadership.
- You’re the emotional buffer.
- Your job constantly interferes with family events.
- You lack control over your work schedule and free time.
- You don’t take care of yourself.
Still, physician burnout is worthy of further study, especially if the cause is due, in part, to the burgeoning digital health industry, which slows no signs of slowing down.
As with any technological advances, there are always human factors to consider and potentially a human cost as well.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.