Being a doctor is often considered to be one of the most desirable careers. In fact, based on its high salary, career advancement opportunities, degree of challenge and job availability, it’s #4 on the U.S. News list of Best Jobs of 2015. So why are nine out of 10 doctors telling others not to join the profession? The simple answer is physician burnout.
The Healthcare Blog defines burnout as “a constellation of symptoms that include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and loss of perspective that work is meaningful.” Medscape’s definition is similar, describing burnout as a “loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.”
According to The Healthcare Blog, “Physician burnout impacts nearly half of all seasoned physicians in practice and up to 75% of resident physicians in training.” In just two years, from 2013 to 2015, the number of physicians reporting burnout increased significantly from just under 40 percent to 46 percent. Burnout negatively affects patient care and is a primary cause behind physicians leaving their practices.
The most heartbreaking result of burnout is physician suicide. Not only do physicians have a higher suicide rate than the general population, but doctors suffering from burnout are at greater risk for becoming depressed and developing suicidal thoughts.
What Are the Causes of Burnout?
The causes of burnout are many, including “overall loss of control and autonomy,” but one constant theme is the increased amount of time doctors are forced to spend at their computers completing forms and other paperwork rather than spending time with their patients. In Medscape’s studies, “too many bureaucratic tasks” ranked in both 2013 and 2015 as the number one cause of burnout.
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of doctors who are struggling with burnout, explains that doctors are spending an inordinate amount of their time with electronic medical records and other documentation. In fact, she writes that “the ratio of time spent on doctor-patient interactions compared to physician-computer ones appears so horribly skewed that it has reached the point of complete dysmorphia.”
Is There a Solution for Burnout?
Clearly something must be done to eliminate some of the bureaucratic burden being placed on doctors. They need to get away from the “stunning and unmanageable number of forms” they have to face every day. Automation is an important part of the solution. Through the elimination of redundant tasks and repetitive paperwork, automation can free up a doctor’s time, allowing for more patient interaction and fewer hours spent in front of the computer. Further, a physician’s practice that incorporates automation tools can handle a larger patient population—increasing productivity and throughput.
Automation, including services like IntelliCentrics , is one part of the solution to physician burnout, but we can’t stop here. As an industry, we must work together to find new ways to sustain our physicians. We need to follow Dr. Meltzer-Brody’s advice and “advocate for a work environment that supports and nurtures the doctor-patient relationship.”