(Last updated: 02/19/2021)
We previously looked at the problem of physician burnout and several ways to fight it. But what are physicians themselves actually saying about the issue? Spok, a company specializing in healthcare communications, recently conducted an in-depth survey of healthcare professionals to get at the heart of the burnout problem. What better way to understand an issue and how to resolve it than to go straight to those most affected? So lets look at what doctors are saying about physician burnout.
Physician Burnout is a Public Health Crisis
One of the questions Spok asked clinicians was if they believe burnout is a public health crisis. An astounding 92% of respondents answered “Yes”. Correspondingly, 89% of clinicians said they had experienced symptoms that could lead to burnout, including work-related stress and loss of satisfaction. But physicians themselves aren’t the only ones affected by burnout. Physician burnout can also lead to dissatisfied patients and costs the U.S. over $4 billion every year. These alarming results indicate immediate action is required to help mitigate burnout and supply physicians with the support they need.
Despite an overwhelming number of clinicians reporting burnout as a public health crisis, only 35% of surveyed clinicians said their organization has the attention and resources to address burnout contributors. This was the main reason clinicians said they don’t seek relief from work-related stress. Other reasons, often in conjunction with lack of institutional attention and resources, include the stigma of seeking help (56%) and clinicians’ concerns about the privacy of their own health data (54%). In total, 84% of respondents reported multiple obstacles to seeking relief from work-related stress.
Ineffective Technology is a Major Contributor to Burnout
There are many factors that contribute to burnout, but according to 90% of clinicians Spok surveyed, “increased and ineffective technology contributes to risk of clinician burnout.” More specifically, over 60% of respondents cited poor implementation (61%), poor workflow integration (77%), and burdensome or increased workflow (89%) as ways technology contributed to burnout. While the adoption of new technology is often necessary for health systems to provide the best possible care, it should be carefully evaluated before being implemented. Technology should make clinicians’ jobs easier, not add more work. So be sure you’re not just adopting new technology for the sake of adopting new technology.
EHRs Need Improvement
According to survey respondents, EHRs are one of the main technologies that could use improvement. 95% believe that improving EHR usability will be at least somewhat helpful in fighting burnout. Thankfully, there are ways to do this. Heather O’Donnell, MD and member of the AAP Council on Clinical Information Technology Executive Committee, suggested five tips for improving the EHR experience:
- Automate or Transfer Daily Protocols – Clinicians spend an unreasonable amount of time performing menial tasks in the EHR. Automate these tasks where possible, or reassign them to support staff so physicians can focus on patients.
- Limit Direct Interactions with the EHR – The less time physicians spend in the EHR, the better. Consider incorporating scribes or voice recognition technology to minimize physicians’ need for entering data in the EHR.
- Offer Additional Training – EHRs can be complicated, especially for physicians who are already over-worked. Offering ongoing EHR training and support can increase EHR usability and efficiency.
- Personalize the User Experience – Personalization, such as the use of text extenders that can be used to auto-produce long sequences of text or even full notes, helps streamline the time physicians spend using the EHR.
- Utilize Your Own EHR Experts – If you have any physicians or support staff that have mastered the use of EHRs, utilize them to support your staff that is frustrated by the EHR. They can help train other staff and act as liaisons to IT or the EHR vendor to alert them of any issues or recommendations.
COVID-19 has Made Burnout Worse
It should come as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the burnout crisis even worse. Just how much worse exactly? A survey conducted June 12-15 by Primary Care Collaborative and The Larry A. Green Center examined the effects of burnout on primary care physicians in 49 states. Of the 763 respondents, 44 and 48 percent respectively said their personal burnout and office burnout is at an all-time high. Other notable results of the survey include:
- 65% said their family’s well-being has suffered as a result of their work as well.
- 63% had severe or near severe stress levels over the 4 week period prior to the survey.
- 45% said their psychological well-being has suffered.
- 36% said their physical well-being has suffered.
These heightened stress levels result from the effects COVID-19 has had on physicians’ practices. In the 4 weeks prior to the survey, 25% of respondents skipped or deferred their salaries, while 39% were forced to layoff staff. 12% even had staff resign due to fears of contracting COVID-19. The open-ended responses to the survey were filled with despairing comments. One response in particular encapsulated how many felt:
“This pandemic is so mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. What does the future hold?”– Survey respondent from Florida
Burnout’s Negative Effects on Clinicians – and Others
Let’s recap what we’ve established about clinician burnout so far:
- Burnout is a public health crisis, according to clinicians themselves.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has only made burnout worse.
- Ineffective technology is a major contributor to burnout.
Now that we know how bad burnout is in a general sense, how it’s been made worse by the pandemic, and what a major contributor to burnout is, it’s time to discuss burnout’s effects in detail. As we’ll see, one particularly concerning aspect of clinician burnout is that it doesn’t just affect clinicians themselves. Patients and clinician’s families and friends also face consequences as a result of burnout.
Medscape recently surveyed over 12,000 physicians to gather their feelings on burnout, suicide, and depression. Highlights from the survey include:
- 51% of women reported feeling burned out, compared to 36% of men
- 79% of respondents said their burnout began before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
- 58% of respondents indicated “too many bureaucratic tasks” as the top contributor to their burnout
- 71% of respondents said burnout has at least a moderate impact on their life, with 47% saying it has a strong/severe impact
- COVID-19 has had a significant affect on worklife happiness
- While many respondents cope with burnout in positive ways, a significant number turn to negative coping mechanisms, such as isolation (43%), eating junk food (35%), drinking (26%), and binge eating (21%)
- At least two-thrids of respondents in every age group indicated burnout had negatively impacted their personal relationships
- Adverse effects involving patients include: being easily exasperated with patients (36%), being less careful taking patient notes (24%), making errors not ordinarily made (15%), and expressing frustration in front of patients (13%)
According to clinicians themselves, physician burnout is a public health crisis, and it’s only become worse due to COVID-19. With 89% of clinicians experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout, health systems need to act quickly to resolve this problem. However, 65% of respondents stated they don’t seek help for burnout because their organization lacks the attention and resources needed to combat burnout contributors. According to 90% of clinicians, technology is a contributor to burnout, often increasing their workload with menial data entry tasks. Technology should do the opposite however; it should increase efficiency and decrease burnout.
One type of technology that can achieve just that is order management software with an integrated Clinical Decision Support Mechanism, or qCDSM. Our iOrder order management software cuts down on back and forth phone calls and missed appointments, eliminates faxes, and provides clinical decision support to help physicians order the right procedure for the right patient at the right time. If you’d like to take the first steps to decreasing physician burnout in your health system, request an iOrder demo and see for yourself all it has to offer. For tips on navigating the new normal, check out our blog on the future of healthcare.