In the video above, I talk with my coach, Dr. Sharon Livingston about why physician burnout is becoming an epidemic.
Personally, I think physician burnout already qualified as an epidemic when over 40% of practicing physicians reported one or more symptoms of burnout in 2011. A recent study out of Mayo Clinic, published in 2015 now puts that number at 55%! So burnout is becoming the new normal for doctors.
Why the 10% increase in the last 5 years? Several factors were identified in the study and are confirmed by my discussions with my clinical colleagues. We have always had the stress of dealing with sick or dying patients and the stress of having to make life and death decisions and take action on a moment’s notice. We also know that the number of patients we are expected to see has increased, resulting in a shorter interaction time and less satisfaction both for physician and patient. Lower patient satisfaction results in lower CAHPS scores potentially affecting our income, and also results in decreased patient compliance and outcomes, which offends our sense of trying to do the best we can for our patients.
Secondly, many of us, myself included, have gone from private or group practice to being employed, either my large medical groups or clinics, or for-profit corporations. The sense of being out of control is in itself a stressor. And the loss of control over our practice environment and our staff has resulted in more friction and conflict in our offices. Previous studies have shown a direct correlation between workplace conflict and burnout.
In my discussions with my younger colleagues, it is apparent that economic stress is up sharply as well. Many early career physicians carry student loan burdens of $250,000-$300,000 and are also trying to shoulder the burden of supporting new families and mortgages. Meanwhile physician income has largely been stagnant over the last 20 years, which accounting for inflation, is a brutal financial hit.
Although the study did not discriminate among the causes of burnout, it is no coincidence that the rise in burnout corresponded to the adoption of Electronic Health Records mandated by the federal government. Many physicians now spend more time on unreimbursed data entry and documentation than they do on patient care. One medical pundit put it this way: ”Most doctors spend 55% of their time on EHR and 45% of their time swearing at it.” Even worse, the combination of EHR and availability of internet connectivity by computer, tablet and smartphone has caused this problem to spill over into doctors’ personal lives. Many physicians have to finish their work at home, which diminishes the quality of their family relationships.
I could go on, but I won’t. Yes, doctors can learn stress-reduction skills and new computer competencies, but that won’t solve the problem of physician burnout until the government and healthcare organizations stop abusing us. The future of healthcare depends on the health and happiness of healthcare providers!