Over the past decade, physician burnout has become a very real problem. Being an over-worked doctor seemed to be just how it was, a part of the deal. But as electronic medical records, and other demands on physicians’ time start to enter the field, a new InCrowd survey adds to previous news and research on our understanding of this important issue.
In May 2016, InCrowd conducted a microsurvey of 200 doctors, specifically primary care physicians and emergency room specialists with an average 17 years of medical experience. These physicians, working in specialties that see particularly high patient volumes, offered, offered their thoughts on the persistent professional exhaustion that runs into both their work and homelife.
While our finding that physician burnout persists is not new — what is startling is the depth of frustration and helplessness doctors provided in open-ended, anecdotal responses, combined with a strong motivation to change their current situation. This three-part series examines the problems causing burnout, followed by a closer look at the differences between doctors in private practice versus hospitals, and, finally, the solutions being posed by doctors and other experts.
As one primary care physician from Arizona put it, “I routinely feel depressed and overwhelmed as I consider my future as a physician in solo practice. I often dread coming to work in the morning, wondering how stressful my day is going to be and what other changes we’re going to have to make to stay financially stable in our practice.”
“I see it every day I work. Doctors and nurses wanting to take short cuts instead of doing what is right for the patient. This has a ripple effect,” admitted an emergency medicine doctor from Vermont.
Such mental and emotional turmoil permeates the everyday lives of physicians, who began careers in medicine to heal people but increasingly find that their their ability to do just that has worsened over the years.
The majority (57%) of participating physicians reported personally experiencing burnout, and another 37% acknowledged witnessing physician burnout in colleagues. This burnout leads to emotional exhaustion, resentment towards patients, lack of motivation, and generalized frustration.
So, what causes this physician burnout? The most commonly cited reason was feeling overworked. Many physicians feel the hours are too long, and they do not have enough time to see patients. As medicine becomes institutionalized, doctors are required to generate revenue and run businesses.
One emergency medicine doctor from Florida best outlined the dilemma by saying, “Trying to balance the need to work faster, see more patients, generate more income (often for others, i.e. ACO’s, hospitals, insurers) against the fear of error (facing irate families, malpractice juries) hardly seems worth the trouble when all I wanted to do was practice medicine and help people.”
Doctors also feel like they are working harder than ever before because they face increasing pressure to see more patients in time that is often being occupied by administrative tasks, like paperwork for insurance companies or electronic medical records. “More and more demands on physician time that does not involve direct patient care. More patients to see, more reports to send to insurance companies. Less time to do what we became doctors to do–take care of people well,” described a PCP from Pennsylvania.
Increased use of technology in healthcare has brought many benefits to quality of care, but increased the time required for physicians to work on their patients yet not with them. One primary care physician from Florida confessed, “[I] closed [my] family medicine practice after 35 years when I had to double the time spent in practice to manage the 40% of my time that had to be spent in supporting, financing and utilizing computerized systems.”
“Electronic medical records and other computer based business systems in healthcare have nearly doubled the time and expense of medical practice for most direct patient care physicians (including physicians in training), without increasing any type of reimbursement,” said another Florida PCP.
With our Crowd of experts offering their honest, thoughtful, and emotional insights, InCrowd hopes to expand the discussion around physician burnout and work towards a solution.
Also read the second installment in this series, “Burnout Exists at High Rates Regardless of Practice Setting or Years in Medicine.
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