In a profession where distress and high-intensity emotions are a daily part of the job description, some degree of physician burnout affects every physician at some point in their career as a medical practice owner, a physician employed in a hospital, or a medical student. It’s estimated that providers are 40% more likely to experience professional burnout than people working in other professions.
So, have physician burnout levels increased post the pandemic? The answer may surprise you. According to a survey of 7,500 physicians conducted by the AMA, the Mayo Clinic, and Stanford University School of Medicine, physician burnout rates have reduced overall. In 2020, 38.2% of U.S. physicians experienced at least one burnout symptom, compared to 43.9% in 2017 and 45.5% in 2011. But, if one was to break it down by specialty and gender, there are differences in the incidence of burnout. Those involved in emergency medicine, critical care, hospital medicine, and infectious disease were the hardest hit post the pandemic. Female physicians are more likely to experience physician burnout than their male counterparts.
What is physician burnout?
Physician burnout refers to the physical, mental, and behavioral changes resulting from the high-stress levels in a healthcare environment. The American Academy of Family Physicians explains physician burnout as ‘exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of efficacy.’
Some of the physical symptoms of physician burnout are:
- A perennial feeling of exhaustion and tiredness
- Muscle pains, backaches, recurring headaches
- Falling repetitively because of low immunity
- A decline in libido.
- Disturbed sleep schedule.
Physician burnout emotional symptoms include:
- Activities that were once enjoyable now feel boring.
- Lack of motivation and dissatisfaction.
- Feeling detachment.
- Sense of failure and defeat.
- Pessimism and a feeling of loneliness.
- Feeling demotivated.
Physician burnout behavioral symptoms include:
- Alcohol or drug intake.
- Self-isolation; cutting yourself off from other people
- Skipping work or being late.
- Taking out frustration on others.
- A visible change in eating habits.
- Negative behavior towards colleagues and spouse
Causes of physician burnout
Some of the factors contributing to physician burnout are as follows:
- Administrative tasks: Physicians did not choose this field to do office work. Yet, many of them report that administrative tasks take up 10 to 20 hours a week, even with digitization in place.
- Demanding patient-care norms: The increasing emphasis on patient satisfaction ratings and the growing accessibility to physicians have heightened the stress levels in the medical profession. Online messaging and smartphones have many advantages over conventional patient communication methods. Yet these technologies have given patients greater access to their physicians, impacting the physician’s ability to control their workday.
- Long working hours: The long work hours and the tendency for physician burnout are directly correlated. With many providers working 70 hours a week, there is an increase in physician burnout and depression.
- Healthcare corporatization: Healthcare enterprises have become increasingly corporatized. Providers employed with large healthcare organizations enjoy far less autonomy in patient handling, to the extent that even the time spent with patients has declined.
- Worrying about online reputation: As per a PatientPop 2018 healthcare provider survey, 88 percent of providers worry about receiving a negative online review from patients. A negative online reputation can severely impact patient base growth in the competitive healthcare business.
Remedial measures to avoid physician
Some of the steps that large healthcare enterprises can take to reduce physician stress levels are as follows:
- Shorten provider shifts.
- Create a program to ‘recognize and reward’ providers.
- Optimize the EMR.
- Organize social events to encourage staff interaction.
- Introduce flexible working hours.
- Encourage the staff to speak up if they feel something is not correct. Increase awareness amongst the healthcare staff on the available EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) resources.
- Give access to mental healthcare to the physicians.
In solo and smaller group practices, where the number of providers is limited, the emphasis must be on lowering the administrative burden on physicians to the extent possible. Outsourcing non-clinical processes is a cost-effective and efficient alternative. Firstly, you can hire a virtual medical assistant team to perform non-clinical tasks (e.g., patient demographics data capture, insurance eligibility verification, preauthorization approvals, claim submissions, revenue tracking, and reporting). Secondly, outsourcing your medical coding and billing to an onshore medical billing company will ensure that your claims are taken care of and that you get paid for medical services in the shortest possible time.
Additionally, patient care initiatives such as remote patient monitoring, TCM, and telehealth will help lower the number of patient visits to the medical office, giving providers more time to oversee their non-clinical responsibilities.
Do you need assistance with medical billing and other non-clinical aspects of managing your medical practice? PracticeForces has been working with physicians for almost two decades, and our teams are available for a free consultation on medical coding and billing. Contact us to know more.