Are Female Physicians at a Higher Risk of Burnout than Male Physicians?

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Dec 15, 2022

Are Female Physicians at a Higher Risk of Burnout than Male Physicians?

Physician burnout has become a rapidly growing concern with over 50% of physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout. Did you know that this burnout does not affect all physicians the same way? Yes, the burnout rates of female physicians surpass that of male physicians. It has been found that female physicians are more likely to consistently experience higher burnout rates than male physicians. Could electronic health records be a contributing factor? Well, a research letter published by the JAMA observed that female physicians tend to spend more time on EHRs and other desk work than male physicians do. And this time difference in the usage of EHRs can significantly contribute to higher burnout prevalence in women physicians, particularly in the form of emotional exhaustion.

Gender based differences in burnout rates

While burnout can affect both men and women, it has been noted that it can predominately occur in females in the healthcare sector. The prevalence of burnout as well as the contributing factors of burnout is more likely to be seen in female physicians. With female physicians more likely than male physicians to take up the responsibilities of child care, schooling, grocery shopping and household tasks, face challenges with work-life balance. Apart from this 70% of women physicians felt that gender discrimination in the form of lower pay and disparaging comments or treatment impacted their well-being and created workplace stress. Additionally, sexual harassment and bigger workloads contributed to experiencing high levels of burnout. Surveys have found that the prevalence of burnout has been 20% to 60% higher among female physicians than male physicians. Medscape’s annual physician lifestyle report 2018 conducted a survey where 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties responded. Based on their responses to the survey questions it was found that 48% of the female physicians reported being burned out as opposed to 38% of the male physicians.

Is EHR usage another major contributing factor?

Women physicians spent more time working on EHRS during and after work hours. It is surprising to note that such differences existed even though women physicians cared for fewer patients on an average. The difference in EHR work time is something that matters a lot, because all these extra hours mean unpaid work. They saw fewer patients but spent more time capturing and documenting each patient's story, than their male counterparts, leading to less pay and increased burnout. A cross sectional study conducted by JAMA Network Open observed gender-based differences in time spent on EHRs in a large ambulatory care network. It found that women physicians spent an average of 41 minutes more time on EHR-related tasks in a day on an average of eight hours of scheduled patient time. The study also reported that they spent 31 minutes a day on writing clinical notes and more than 9 minutes a day on EHR activities outside of scheduled work hours or “pajama time” than male physicians to catch up on their days charting. All these added hours are likely to contribute to higher burnout rates in women who already have disproportionate house-hold chores and child-care responsibilities on them to shoulder. One effective solution that may prove beneficial is providing documentation support in the form of scribes. Employing scribes not only has the potential to ease documentation burdens but also enhance physician experience.

How virtual medical scribes can help?

A qualitative study published in JAMIA Open says that medical scribes reduce physician burnout by considerably reducing the time spent on documentation. Similarly, a pediatric primary care practice performed a single center observational study for three different phases – Pre-scribe, with scribe and scribe withheld. It was observed that documentation time dropped by 3 minutes 28 seconds per patient and physician’s time spent in EHR decreased by 1.2 hours per clinic session. Furthermore, a randomized controlled trial performed in an academic family medicine clinic by randomly assigning one week with scribes and then without scribes found that the use of medical scribes appeared to be a promising strategy to significantly reduce physician burnout. And we know that the clerical burden associated with the use of EHRs is the primary driver of physician burnout. Hence, use of scribes reduces the time spent on EHR documentation and prevents physician burnout factors.

Women make up more than a third of physicians and contribute significantly to the healthcare system. Ensuring the well-being of the women physician workforce is essential for the women physicians themselves as well as for the patients. With solutions like virtual medical scribes addressing the EHR documentation burden it’s easy to not only alleviate physician burnout but also streamline their workloads and improve their efficiency. To know more on how a virtual medical scribe can reduce the EHR documentation burden and trim burnout reach us at (908)736-4180.

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