December 18, 2017

Burn Baby Burn

Physician burnout in the United States has been a serious problem for some time. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, entitled, Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population, looked at the recent rates of physician burnout in the United States by specialty and compared physicians with US workers in other fields. The study found that almost one in two doctors show symptoms of burnout. It also found that “physicians in specialties at the front line of care seem to be at greatest risk”-“emergency medicine, general internal medicine and family medicine.” It is no wonder that there are such high rates of burnout among physicians since they are consistently faced with several responsibilities such as seeing many patients daily, returning phone calls, and reviewing test results.

Physician burnout is a condition described as a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion due to a lot of stress in the workplace. It can make an individual feel like they are disengaged from work, can cause a loss of interest in work, and can make that person feel a low sense of personal accomplishment. Some other signs and symptoms of burnout may include change in appetite or sleep habits, procrastination, and frequent headaches. Some of the harmful personal effects for doctors as a result are contributions to broken relationships, excessive alcohol or drug use, and in extreme cases, suicide.

In order to prevent burnout among physicians, there must be an effective work-life balance which consists of learning how to manage stress; adopting healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits; finding time to spend with family and friends; and setting limits. A couple of ways in which burnout can be managed are to take a break and ask for help. Although these sound like two easy things to do, the doctor must realize this on their own before the situation gets worse.

Burnout just doesn’t affect physicians; it also affects other members of the health care workforce such as nurses, nurse practitioners, and other behavioral and primary care providers.  In addition to the workforce, patients under the care of these health professionals are impacted as well. For instance, a doctor may not perform a service well if they have lost enthusiasm for work due to burnout, which could lead to medical errors and reduced quality of care for the patient.

Under the Affordable Care Act, these primary care doctors are faced with the challenge of accepting a larger patient population while improving the quality of care and reducing costs to prevent patients from entering the hospital. With this added pressure, physician burnout is highly likely to increase in the US. In order to ensure this new patient population gets the care they need and that physicians are prepared to deal with this change, prevention and treatment of physician burnout must be key.