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Physician Burnout Is a Problem at 83% of Healthcare Organizations

A new study found 83 percent of surveyed clinicians and healthcare organization leadership see physician burnout as a problem.

Physician burnout is a problem at most healthcare organizations

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Eighty-three percent of clinicians, clinical leaders, and healthcare executives view physician burnout as a problem at their organizations, according to findings in a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst spring 2018 report about burnout and how to prevent it.

Titled “Immunization Against Burnout,” the report by Swensen et al. featured responses from 703 healthcare executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians from hospitals, physician organizations, and health systems that are part of the NEJM Catalyst Insights Council.

Overall, 78 percent of registered nurses, 64 percent of advanced practice nurses, 56 percent of clinical leaders, and 42 percent of healthcare executives reported that physician burnout is a problem at their organizations.

While the numbers indicate physician burnout is a significant problem in the industry, the problem is improving slightly overtime— a 2016 NEJM Catalyst report found 96 percent of respondents felt burnout was a significant detriment to their organizations. 

Authors pointed out the problem of physician burnout has quantifiable repercussions — at Atrius Health, it costs between $500,000 and $1 million to replace a physician. Additionally, physician burnout can negatively affect patient satisfaction and quality of care.

“Clinicians feel the impact of burnout by reducing their hours, switching to administrative roles, or leaving health care altogether, taking them away from why they chose medicine in the first place: to treat patients,” wrote authors in the report.

While fewer clinicians and hospital leaders named physician burnout as a problem in 2018 compared to 2016, the majority of respondents reported in 2018 that the problem has gotten worse over the past two to three years.

However, 15 percent of respondents reported that they expect rates of physician burnout will decrease in the coming two to three years.

“Executives (26%) are more optimistic than clinical leaders (12%) and clinicians (11%) about the next few years when it comes to burnout,” wrote authors. “One Insights Council member says, going forward, organizations should ‘acknowledge’ burnout as a problem and ‘create internal systems of support within the organization.’”

To overcome problems related to physician burnout, 82 percent of respondents recommended stakeholders orient interventions to target the organizational level rather than the regulatory level or individual level.

“Self-care ranks highest among tools that individuals can use to reduce or guard against clinician burnout, according to half of respondents,” wrote authors. “More than a quarter say individual responses are ineffective because burnout is primarily a system-level issue.”

About half of respondents ranked off-loading administrative tasks to other staff members as a way to alleviate physician burnout. For example, medical scribes can help to reduce burnout by taking over EHR clinical documentation duties.

“There is broad agreement on the need for more face-to-face time between clinicians and patients and less time spent on the electronic medical record and documentation,” authors stated. “A little over half of survey respondents recommend offloading clerical tasks to scribes, pharmacy technicians, or population health facilitators.”

Meanwhile, 46 percent of respondents recommended health IT innovators improve EHR systems and other health IT.

“Some organizations have shared with us that they don’t have the resources to invest in better systems, workflow, and people to alleviate burnout, so it has fallen on clinicians to be more resilient,” wrote authors.

Ultimately — while some clinicians are optimistic physician burnout will decrease in the coming years — about 60 percent of respondents stated the problem will likely get worse.

The problem of physician burnout has been receiving an increasing amount of attention in recent years. In 2017, a group of healthcare CEOs called physician burnout a public health crisis and called on stakeholders across the industry to address the issue.

The group of CEOs cited EHR technology as one of many contributing factors that may lead to physician burnout. The healthcare CEOs committed to taking about a dozen actions to work to reduce physician burnout, including working with AMA to improve EHR systems.

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