Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and many other clinician types often live with an overwhelming amount of stress in a fast-paced work environment, resulting in what the industry refers to as “physician burnout.” This is a problem that affects a large number of healthcare workers. In fact, according to Medscape’s 2021 Physician Burnout report published early this year, 42% of physicians reported feeling burned out; 79% said their burnout began even before COVID-19 made its mark on society.1

 

By the Numbers

Here are some more daunting statistics to put this issue in perspective:

Factors of Burnout

The first step in solving a problem is addressing the factors that cause it. Stress and the high amount of pressure that comes with the job is one of the most significant components of physician burnout; however, it is the most difficult one to solve. Part of being a doctor, nurse, surgeon, etc., is knowing that patients’ lives are at stake, and one tiny mistake could be extremely costly. If you are/know anyone in medicine (or watched a medical show before), this is something that takes getting used to. The best way to help a young clinician is to be patient, compassionate, and empathic with them. While scare tactics may be the answer for some, encouragement is the better alternative. Other factors of physician burnout include the long shift hours, unfavorable working conditions, and inconsistent time-off. The average doctor works around 51 hours a week, but nearly 30% of doctors work over 60.2 This makes it challenging to have a family/social life, which is necessary for maintaining sturdy mental health.

COVID-19 obviously contributed to this number as well. Healthcare workers had to wear layers and layers of protection to work every day throughout their potentially 16+ hour shifts, to which they sat front row to COVID, watching it gruesomely take the lives of innocent members of the community. When they finally got home, they had to isolate themselves from their families to protect them from the virus. Remember how hard it was for you not to see your friends and extended family? Imagine how hard it would be not to see your son, daughter, spouse, or dog, for that matter. Many could not take it any longer or at least needed a break.

According to recent studies, between 20% and 30% of frontline U.S. healthcare workers say they are now contemplating leaving the profession. 43% of nurses and 48% of ICU workers are considering leaving their role as well. Close to one-third (31%) of those surveyed said they were now more likely to retire early, while 25% were considering taking a career break.3

We at Cantata Health Solutions are supporters of healthcare technology in the workplace and believe it can drastically improve patient safety and overall workflow. However, when physicians are not trained/educated with their EHR/electronic devices or have a non-user-friendly system in place, it will cause more harm than good.

Its impact on organizations, patients, and physicians

The high rate of physician burnout negatively impacts its patients, organizations, and fellow staff members. Because of the negative stigma surrounding working in healthcare, med students are dropping out of school, and young interns and residents are quitting well before the end of their program. This leads to shortages all around the county and the world, causing the older doctors to work longer shifts, even when they are at the end of their careers.

53% of doctors say burnout directly impacts their job performance. Due to stress, lack of sleep, and fatigue, 35% experienced more irritation with patients, 26% had less motivation to be careful with notetaking, and 14% have made administrative or medical errors.4

Aside from what it does to your organization, it can also affect physicians’ mental health and safety. Increased use of alcohol, drug misuse, depression, and even suicide have been common burnout results.5

How this problem can be improved

Organizations must cooperate with clinicians to make their facility a more welcoming and accommodating place to work. A doctor cannot go into the hospital tired and with the mindset of hating their profession; it is unfair to them and the patients. Hiring more employees can immediately cut shift lengths and comfortably give existing staff members more vacation time. Additional pay isn’t the answer either. A recent report showed that 50% of doctors would sacrifice at least $20,000 of their salary to reduce their work hours and have a more flexible schedule.6

Physicians have a role in protecting themselves from burnout as well. They must practice forms of “self-care,” which can include hobbies such as reading, exercising, medication, hanging with friends, and even sleeping. They should not put so much pressure on themselves, as it is not their responsibility to cover someone’s shift or stay late because “their patient” is having trouble. One cannot take care of others if they do not first take care of themselves.

We recommend that all health facilities implement an electronic health record into their technology plan to maximize efficiency and ensure patient safety. However, before the organization’s leadership team chooses a vendor, they should consult with their medical team first, given they will work on it daily. After a vendor is chosen, the organization must offer EHR training courses and education sessions to their staff members to avoid confusion or hardships down the road.

In addition, almost every clinician’s least favorite duty is data entry regarding electronic medical records and technology. By adding medical assistants/scribes to the practice, you can not only create less work for your doctors but ensure that the correct information is being recorded.

 

Although COVID-19 has aggravated the burnout of doctors, this is not the original cause. Organizations are fully aware of the statistics and how they can address these concerns. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic was a hot issue and the primary obstacle to overcome. Still, as the number of cases and hospitalizations declines, we must begin working toward a solution to the physician burnout pandemic.

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REFERENCES

  1. Bean, Mackenzie. “5 Stats on Physician Burnout in 2020.” Becker’s Hospital Review, 25 Jan. 2021, beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-physician-relationships/5-stats-on-physician-burnout-in-2020.html
  2. “How Many Hours Per Week Do Doctors Work?” The Average Doctor, 23 Mar. 2021, averagedoctor.com/how-many-hours-per-week-do-doctors-work/.
  3. Gilchrist, Karen. “Covid Has Made It Harder to Be a Health-Care Worker. Now, Many Are Thinking of Quitting.” CNBC, 2 June 2021, cnbc.com/2021/05/31/covid-is-driving-an-exodus-among-health-care-workers.html.
  4. Clark, Maria. “30+ Shocking Physician Burnout Statistics You’ll Never Believe.” Etactics, Etactics | Revenue Cycle Software, 14 Oct. 2020, etactics.com/blog/physician-burnout-statistics.
  5. Aymes, Shannon. “Physician Burnout: Running on an Empty Tank.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 22 Sept. 2020, medicalnewstoday.com/articles/physician-burnout-running-on-an-empty-tank.
  6. Hartzband, Pamela, and Jerome Groopman. “Physician Burnout, Interrupted: NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine, 17 June 2021, nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2003149.
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