Preventing Physician Burnout By Decreasing Workloads
Evidence supports that physician dissatisfaction and burnout has continues to be a serious and growing problem. According to the Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019, burnout is defined as “long-term, unresolvable job stress that leads to exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, cynical, detached from the job and lacking a sense of personal accomplishment.”1
U.S. physicians suffer more burnout than other American workers. At the top of the list are our front-line physicians—Critical Care, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, and Internal Medicine, ranging from 44 to 49 percent of the responding physicians in those specialties. Additionally, the report reveals that that 93% of responding physicians cited either too many bureaucratic tasks (charting, paperwork) or too many hours at work as the key contributors to their burnout. These statistics may be alarming to some, but it is the reality for those front-line physicians and healthcare administrators tasked with recruiting and retaining physicians. Physician burnout will not only impact individual practices and healthcare systems, but it also is likely to have dire consequences on our entire healthcare infrastructure.
The good news is that physician burnout is not going unnoticed. It’s top of mind among healthcare professionals who are publishing numerous articles, focusing on identifying root causes and proposing potential solutions. I frequently attend national healthcare conferences and often find issues related to physician burnout to be hot topics. Physicians and healthcare administrators, visiting our AccessNurse exhibit were searching for options and discussing potential solutions that would provide some relief to what they referred to as their overwhelmed and overworked providers.
What benefits and programs are offered to address physician burnout and to help physicians reduce stress and improve work-life balance? To find answers, I searched the Internet to see what perks are offered, either in the recruiting process to attract top talent or used to retain physicians. My findings included the important, but standard benefits, such as different types of insurances, continuing education reimbursement, relocation allowances, signing bonuses, etc. I did not find any benefits or offerings that would positively impact work-life balance and address stress, which is a major cause of burnout among physicians.
During one of the informal huddles at our conference exhibit, someone mentioned the idea of using after-hours telephone triage as a recruiting benefit. Once this idea was presented to the group, consisting of providers and administrators, it was as if a light bulb turned on for several participating in the discussion. Some said they already planned to implement after hours telephone nurse triage to bring relief to their physicians, but they never thought to mention it during the recruiting process or list it as a benefit. A health system CEO in the group told us that he’s been courting a physician for some time, but he hasn’t been able to get a commitment, and he believed that freeing her from after-hours call duty could make the difference. Several administrators said that their younger physicians have been asking for this after-hours support and were not expecting for after-hours on call to be part of the job.
Being able to offer the provider flexibility to attend family events, get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, and know that they can confidently make leisure time plans is a powerful benefit. For the facility, it can improve provider performance when they have had adequate rest and leisure time. The performance of a rested provider will be reflected in patient satisfaction and quality of care delivered. Carving the 24/7 access out of the provider’s core responsibilities is a powerful physician recruitment and retention game changer.
1Leslie Kane, MA, Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019, January 16, 2019.
Jeanne Griffin, Director of Business Development at AccessNurse, holds a marketing degree from the University of Tennessee and 20-plus years of sales and business development experience. Throughout her career, Jeanne’s mission has been to work with each prospective client as a potential partner and ensuring that each client receives high-quality services that are customized for each client’s specific needs, thereby improving client satisfaction as well as the client’s customer/patient experience.