Understanding Physician Burnout

Physician Burnout

By now you have heard it in the headlines for some time: doctors are experiencing burnout in droves. But why are physicians especially prone to burnout? Are some physicians in more danger than others? What can you do at your facility to help prevent it? The current burnout epidemic is a symptom of deeper, complex issues within the U.S. healthcare system, but there are a few core takeaways to help you better understand and care for your medical staff right away.

It’s a fast-paced, high stakes job. While it can vary by specialty, many physicians face a grueling day every time they set foot in the hospital. Not only must they see many patients, sometimes with only a short time allocated to each one, but each decision is important. Add on the emotional burden of handling patients’ families, undesirable diagnoses, and any interpersonal difficulties, and one can see how the pressure physicians face each day can weigh on them. In addition to these pressures, many physicians work long shifts, especially early on in their careers. Facing these stressors each day without enough rest or the downtime to recover from difficult cases can put physicians on the path to burnout.

They feel burdened by EHR systems. A recurring theme since the transition to electronic health records is that many of these systems are inefficient and add to physicians’ burdens when it comes to managing them. Many physicians report having to spend an inordinate amount of time clicking through various screens when trying to access records or input information. What may seem like minor inconveniences end up snowballing when a doctor must spend so much time dealing with these systems for each patient. This also takes away time from actually seeing and treating patients, which many physicians feel is a deviation from why they got into medicine in the first place; they don’t want to sit behind a screen, they want to help people. A solution growing in popularity is the use of medical scribes, either in the hospital or through virtual systems. The scribes help take some of the documentation burden off the physician team, freeing up time for other activities.

Certain physicians are at higher risk than others. Some specialties have reported higher rates of burnout symptoms. There is evidence that women may report higher rates of burnout as well. This may be in part due to a greater likelihood to report the problem, but may also reflect cultural problems within a facility. Being attuned to these factors can help you catch the symptoms earlier and assist your physicians before they get to the point of burnout.

Here’s what you can do. It’s important that those managing a facility become familiar with the signs of physician burnout and understand where to intervene. Keeping in touch with the physician team on a regular basis is essential to knowing how things are going. Are physicians using their vacation time? Are they able to take time off when sick? Do they receive debriefing or counseling after difficult cases? Is the team encouraged to utilize these resources and given time to do so?

If it seems like there is not enough time for your staff to use the resources available to them for fighting burnout, then additional staff can be a good place to start. If you are unsure about adding a full time position, or simply need a physician on a temporary basis while you fill out your team, then locum tenens staffing can help you balance your team in the meantime. You can assess the impact of the additional physicians without having to make a permanent commitment, and you can give your full time staff some relief if they have been understaffed.

Need help getting the right staff in place?

Burnout is a complicated issue, but there are many ways to help. If you need locum tenens providers at your facility, then get in touch with us today so we can get you the right people for the job.