Physician burnout is an increasing problem in US health care systems. In the MedScape LifeStyle Report 2017: Race and Ethnicity, Bias and Burnout of 14,000 physicians, 51% reported burnout, versus 40% in 2013, an increase of more than 25%. Among Family Medicine providers, the reported burnout rate is 55%.

An understanding of the causes and impacts of physician burnout can help health care systems implement solutions to better support their physicians so they can reduce burnout.

Causes of Burnout

Physicians simply don’t have enough hours in the day to meet all of the demands of their jobs.   A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that physicians would need to work 21.7 hours a day to provide complete preventative, chronic and acute medical care to their patients. Add to that all of their administrative tasks, and the job can be overwhelming. In fact, the top cause of physician burnout according to the MedScape LifeStyle Report 2017 is “too many bureaucratic tasks” followed by “spending too many hours at work,” and “feeling like just a cog in a wheel.” Many physicians will indicate that they spend too little time taking care of patients and too much time on regulatory compliance, documentation and administrative tasks.

 Physician Burnout and the Impact on Care

Physicians experiencing burnout report being overwhelmed by their responsibilities and unable to successfully complete their jobs. This leads to increasing feelings of pessimism, hopelessness and emotional and physical fatigue. Their sense of what they can personally accomplish diminishes, as does their overall interest in work. Physicians who report burnout often have less energy, may start to question their abilities and may reduce their hours or stop practicing all together.

Not surprisingly, physicians with burnout report being more distracted and less able to focus on patient needs and may make more mistakes. Due to their experience of low energy, they also may take short cuts in patient care.

Addressing Physician Burnout

Health care systems recognize the problem of physician burnout, and some are implementing initiatives to address the issue. The Mayo Clinic is focusing on ways to build collaboration and companionship amongst physicians, while the Cleveland Clinic has implemented training sessions to improve patient communication skills. Addressing the challenges that physicians face in the workplace can yield positive results. Initial studies indicate that improvements in leadership, workflow and communication are helping to reduce physician burnout. Additional solutions include teaching physicians ways to deal with stress including mindfulness and stress reduction.

Solutions that improve communication and reduce bureaucratic tasks can also be helpful. Our RapidConnect secure messaging communication platform was developed by physicians to help alleviate some of the things physicians find frustrating and most wasteful of their time. RapidConnect reduces communication barriers and streamlines collaboration with other physicians and caregivers. It also gives physicians more control over how and when they respond, or even who responds on their behalf — by working within their existing workflow and/or staff hierarchy. This improves overall physician and staff efficiency, freeing up time for meaningful patient interaction.

To fully address physician burnout, more initiatives are needed that will assist physicians with managing all of the demands on their time while reinforcing their sense of value in their work. The good news is that health care systems are recognizing the magnitude of the problem and more are working on initiatives to prevent physician burnout.