Physician Burnout – A Growing Medical Crisis in the USA

Physician Burnout – A Growing Medical Crisis in the USA

Feb 19,2022

Physician Burnout – A Growing Medical Crisis in the USA

The healthcare organization, with its fast-paced workdays, long hours of work, demanding schedules, EHR documentation requirements, and intense time pressure can cause rampant burnout among physicians. The startling rise in physician burnout cases across the healthcare industry in the US is a cause of serious concern. Burnout is not only bad for physicians, but for patients and healthcare organizations. A nation-wide survey was conducted to assess the prevalence of stress among US physicians. The findings revealed that more than fifty percent of physicians experienced at least one symptom of burnout, which had a negative effect on patient satisfaction and patient outcomes.

What is Physician Burnout?

In layman’s terms, physician burnout is described as “batteries being run down”. This is, however, an incorrect description. A battery will eventually turn off, but a physician continues to work. They might feel exhausted, overwhelmed, emotionally detached and inefficient at work. One should understand that there is a difference between physician burnout and ordinary workplace stress. In case of normal stress physicians will be able to revive their physical and emotional energy levels between shifts. However, if their energy levels continue to drop and they feel completely drained, preventing them from giving their best at work, they are likely to suffer from physician burnout.

Alarming Statistical Data on Physician Burnout

Let us now look at some of the shocking statistics about physician burnout.

  • A research conducted by Mayo Clinic in 2021 reports that 42% of physicians experience burnout.
  • A study conducted by LeverageRX says charting and paperwork takes up a lot of physicians’ time and prevents them from seeing more patients. 50% of physicians work at least 60 hours each week, with paperwork taking up a significant portion of their time.
  • Psychiatry Advisor published a report wherein it states that 42% of physicians are of the opinion that they can cope with their struggles and are hesitant to seek professional help.
  • A study published in Annals of Medicine says that physician burnout could cost up to $6 billion per year that involves the cost of recruitment and replacement of physicians who quit their jobs unable to handle burnout and regain their balance.
  • According to a study published by Stanford University School of Medicine, physician burnout is accountable for preventable medical errors just as unsafe healthcare workplace environments.
  • Let us see some of the shocking revelations of Medscape studies on physician burnout
    • 43% of physicians chose to isolate themselves to cope with physician burnout.
    • 26% of physicians turned to alcohol to deal with burnout symptoms.
    • Female physicians reported higher degrees of burnout than male physicians, over the past few decades.
    • 21% of physicians struggling with burnout symptoms blamed it on Covid -19.
    • 37% of physicians admitted that working long hours in a day contributed to symptoms of burnout.
    • 72% of physicians reported that a reduction in pay while working extended hours on account of the pandemic was yet another major cause for burnout.
    • 13% of physicians reported that they had developed suicidal thoughts on account of burnout, even though they did not attempt.

Ways to Mitigate Physician Burnout

  • Take the help of a scribe-on-site scribe or virtual scribe: Using a scribe is an effective strategy to reduce physician burnout, by considerably reducing the administrative workload and allowing for some meaningful interactions with patients. Scribes can truly help enhance physician well-being by serving as a protective barrier against the demands for clinical documentation. There are several on-site and virtual medical scribe service providers available out there. Choose the one that best works for you.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance: Work life balance is the buzzword answer to solving the burnout issue. Physicians should try scheduling some personal time and stick to it. It could be taking a brisk walk, doing a quick workout, reading a book, playing with their kids, going on a date with their partner, or just doing something that brings them joy. Consider working fewer hours, or choose telemedicine to cut down on office hours. Above all, take time to remind and appreciate the incredible work you do – helping people live better lives.
  • Have a check on your emotions: We all have days when we feel extremely tired, and low in energy, focus or drive. Use your body as a barometer and analyze how you are feeling, using a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 indicates low energy levels and 10 indicates high energy levels. If you notice that you are continually feeling low and weary, it is an indication that you need to recharge your battery. Just unplug from draining activities and plug into restorative activities. Take time off and make a serious effort to indulge in restorative activities.
  • List out things you can’t control: Identify and make a list of things that are beyond your control. This list could be long, particularly during this current pandemic situation. Make a conscious effort to not invest your time and energy in such things as you might end up feeling helpless and frustrated. Learn to let go and don’t be hard on yourself.
  • Look for warning signs and seek help: : Never ignore warning signs. Pay attention to any early signs and reach out for help to keep you healthy and working at your best. Else, it might pave the way for adverse outcomes like depression, substance abuse and impaired relationships. If you feel irritable, angry, or frustrated than normal, have trouble sleeping, experience severe mood swings, or feel like on the verge of tears for no reason, do not hesitate to seek help.

Are Medical Scribes a Remedy for Physician Burnout?

The leading cause of physician burnout is too much time spent at the computers doing repetitive administrative tasks. As more and more healthcare organizations are looking for options to help physicians with their intense administrative workloads and practice on top of their licenses, came in the medical scribes. Medical practices can either opt for a physical scribe who will accompany the physician and perform real-time clinical documentation, or opt for a remote scribe who will listen to the patient encounters remotely through a secure internet connection and complete the documentation in real-time. Both of these types of scribes work in real-time and can enter all data into the EMR. Various studies suggest that using scribes have

  • Increased physician productivity and efficiency
  • Improved physician satisfaction
  • Improved patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes
  • More accurate and complete notes
  • Increased revenue to the practice

Enjoying these benefits, however, necessitates an investment. Despite, the costs, scribes offer positive financial benefits, particularly in the ED. Of all the specialties, surveys say that emergency departments show the highest physician burnout rates. Using scribes in the ED improves physician productivity enough to offset their costs. An ACEP study reported that the return on investment was greater than 100%. Furthermore, Healthcare Business Insights organization states that scribes enable ED physicians to see one extra patient every hour on an average.

Physicians play a crucial role in saving lives, extending lives and improving lives. However, focus on perfectionism at work, demanding work schedules, high levels of exhaustion,and work-life imbalance might take a toll on their health, resulting in physician burnout. Physician burnout has reached rampant levels among physicians in the US, with nearly half of physicians experiencing symptoms. Addressing the problem and improving the well-being of physicians is the need of the hour. Apart from physician’s stress-coping strategies, healthcare organizations must intervene and implement burnout-prevention measures to protect the healthcare providers, without whom, the healthcare system will come to a halt.

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