“Burnout is everywhere, but you can’t fight an enemy unless you recognize it” says Dr. Drummond, consultant and author on the subject of physician burnout.  One out of every three physicians have experienced burnout through certain points of their careers. According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic, 54.4%  of physicians report at least 1 symptom of burnout. Although this is such a relevant problem, stress management and burnout prevention training are not commonly offered in medical school or residency training.

So what is “burnout” exactly?

Defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, burnout is a long term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, lack of efficacy and a lack of the sense of personal accomplishment. Instead of finding the same sense of challenge and enjoyment in their work, individuals find themselves keeping their heads down, churning through the work and taking their days one at a time. It is a common occurrence in individuals with demanding jobs or with the responsibility to care for others. There are many causes of physician burnout, with the top five being: family responsibilities, time pressure, chaotic environment, low control of pace and the use of electronic health records. Physicians tend to fare better in organizations where they are not compensated for individual productivity, are not under time stress, have more control over clinical issues, and are able to balance family life with their work.

Burnout is directly linked to a list of undesirable consequences that affects both physicians and patients. These consequences include:

  • Increase in medical error rates and malpractice risk
  • Lower patient satisfaction and care quality
  • Early physician retirement and staff turnover

How can physician burnout be avoided or solved?

Weʻve summarized our top three favorites of Dr. Drummond’s, “The Eight Ways to Lower Practice Stress and Get Home Sooner” below:

Learn From and Become an EHR Power User

EHRʻs are evolving and can sometimes be tricky. Invest some time into really understanding your system from a “power user” or another physician who is handling the system with ease. If you need help identifying an individual, ask your nurses or ask your EHR vendor to connect you with one. Simply watching them charting and taking notes on their process can help improve your learning very quickly.

Huddle With Your Team Daily

Huddle with your team twice a day to anticipate needs and problems and then to review what could have been done differently that day. Be sure to keep these meetings quick and concise, having standing meetings may help this process. Be sure to have the dayʻs schedule in hand and brief your team on what they should do with certain repeated problems that arise, such as open appointment slots.

Embrace Batch Processing

Take all non-urgent tasks that you find yourself doing and put them into one pile. Process this pile twice a day when you and your team have the time to address them all at once. Some good times to do this are 11:30am and 4:30pm. To prepare for this system, identify what items you should batch, the little things that interrupt your day repeatedly but can be held off for a couple of hours.

Other suggestions include getting outdoors, mindfulness exercises, aerobic exercises, and balint sessions. However, the most immediately effective suggestion are stress management courses. In a study done on the effectiveness of stress management courses, it was proven that the work-related stress levels of participants significantly decreased, while their general well-being and quality of life improved over a period of 12 weeks following the course’s administration. It was also concluded that a single, all-day, stress management workshop given to medicine and pediatric residents alleviated their emotional exhaustion for as long as 6 weeks after the course.

On days busy while taking care of others, it can be easy to forget to care for yourself. Try the tips above and let us know your thoughts! Did they work well for you, and if not, what would you recommend to your fellow physicians?

2 thoughts on “1/3 of Physicians Have Experienced Burnout. What Can You Do to Avoid It?

  1. As a hospitalist, once I asked the same quedtion to the chief of the hospitalist group at Besth Israel Hospital in Biston, Dr. Joe Li. He told me, once you finish your work day, do anything but medicine. Keep your mind distracted in other fun activities. It works!

  2. Our actions to de-stressing and thereby reducing “burnout are always being addressed, which is equivalent to treating a cough but never figuring out the underlying cause and correcting/treating.
    The only way to truly reduce burnout is to tackle the REAL causes, which have been imposed upon the profession by outsiders for their own greed and needs and NOT the needs of patients and providers.
    EX.: Prior authorizations which began as cost containment initiatives have become a data mining experience for others and simply a waste of time for providers causing excessive stress and increased overhead costs to our already stretched thin budgets. This alone contributes tremendously to “burnout” as we must revisit multiple times the same one issue just to get a patient a ‘treatment’ we determined necessary in the first place. Time and energy that could be spent treating more patients. The undermining of our professional knowledge and experience for the sake of saving money to a third party….which is NOT being reinvested in patients but rather profits for the third party.
    I could go on and on, but NO ONE really cares about changing the landscape of burnout, because the economics of healthcare is more important than patient care and professional integrity…so “how to deal” with burnout has become the politically correct avenue of address.
    TOO BAD…..it is destroying the House of Medicine and patients are the ones suffering the consequences.
    The advice given in this article is general and for the most part difficult to implement for employed physicians who have no control over their daily schedules or the operations of their work environment.

    The real question we need to be addressing is… How do we eliminate the underlying causes of burnout not cover them up with stress management techniques.

    p.s. as a solo practitioner I have the luxury of limiting patient numbers and taking off as much time as I want, which decreases patient loads and income, but also is not using my expertise to the fullest. This is the response necessary to decrease or avoid burnout, which did not exist 20 years ago. So….again I say the response is a reaction to a symptom but does not stop the primary disease. As clinicians our job is to find and cure or minimize the disease effects. Third party intrusion into the practice of medicine has become out of control and
    only providers have the power to say NO MORE before “the parasites kill the host”.

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