Physician burnout is on the rise and the negative affects are taking their toll on more than just the doctors. A balanced approach is required.
Over the past three years, several studies have been done to assess the level of work-life balance and physician satisfaction. These studies point to an increase in the prevalence of burnout, which occurs more often in physicians than in workers in other fields. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, (Now JAMA Internal Medicine) more than 7,200 physicians were surveyed on their feelings of burnout. Of those surveyed, 45.8% indicated experiencing one or more symptom such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, or a low sense of personal accomplishment. (Shanafelt, 2012)
CAUSES OF BURNOUT
There are several factors contributing to physician burnout, with increased stress at the top of the list. Making life-or-death decisions, increasing regulatory requirements, fear of making a mistake and the associated punitive consequences, are just a few of the stressors physicians deal with regularly. Additionally, long hours, increasing paperwork, and the pressure to see a high volume of patients while reimbursements are decreasing is pushing some physicians to leave their practice. (Krupa, 2013) While fewer practicing physicians is a definite problem, other consequences may be more damaging.
While job burnout may not seem like a serious issue, it can produce critical circumstances when it involves a physician. Doctors experiencing burnout have higher levels of divorce, depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide. Additionally, they have lower levels of clinical care quality and patient satisfaction, and higher levels of medical errors and malpractice risk. (Drummond, 2013) As medical errors are estimated to be the #3 cause of death in the United States, and annual costs for medical mistakes are estimated to be between $17 billion and $30 billion, the U.S. Healthcare system cannot afford the financial affects of physician burnout. (Makary, 2012)
A COMBINATION OF SOLUTIONS
There is no single solution that will eradicate physician burnout. A combination of providing individual physician support, and easing systemic pressures will be required to reduce job-related fatigue. “It’s important to remember that the origins of burnout are rooted in the environment and care delivery system rather than in the personal characteristics of a few susceptible people. Policy makers and healthcare organizations must address this problem for the sake of physicians and their patients.” (West, 2013) By providing work-life balance education early in their careers, and offering continuing education and assistance for stress management, many doctors can receive some of the personal support needed. Additionally, identifying and implementing changes in the healthcare environment is necessary to help minimize the burden placed on doctors. While changing the healthcare system is a daunting task, simple solutions are available to ease pressures while working towards a better structure. Opportunities offered by available technology can provide physicians with effective time-saving benefits while increasing patient care and decreasing errors. Utilizing IT to assist with such tasks as management of personal health records, computerized physician order entry, and decision support, can offer “key components of a multifaceted strategy to prevent medication errors and improve patient safety. (BJCP, 2009) Overall, it’s going to take a balance of solutions to assist doctors in developing a work-life balance.
Armitage, M. Physician burnout: Causes and consequences. The Barton Blog. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://www.bartonassociates.com/2013/01/16/physician-burnout-causes-and-consequences/
British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP). (2009). Medication errors: prevention using information technology systems. Retrieved May 2, 2013, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2125.2009.03427.x/full
Drummond, D. Physician Burnout and the Enlightened CFO. HealthWorks Collective. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://healthworkscollective.com/dikedrummond/94771/physician-burnout-and-enlightened-cfo
Krupa, C. (2012). Nearly half of physicians struggle with burnout. American Medical News. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://www.amednews.com/article/20120903/profession/309039952/2/
Shanafelt, T. (2012) Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population. JAMA Internal Medicine. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1351351&link=xref
Makary, M. (2012) Cause of Death: Medical Error and Overtreatment. Wall Street Journal, blogs. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2012/09/25/cause-of-death-medical-error-and-overtreatment/
West, C. (2013) At the Boiling Point: Physician Burnout & Work-Life Balance. Physicians Weekly. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://www.physiciansweekly.com/physician-burnout-work-balance/