Research

How to Spot and Reduce Physician Burnout

October 15, 2019

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Physician burnout is a growing concern in the healthcare industry. A Medscape survey of 15,000 physicians across 29 specialties found 44 percent of those surveyed consider themselves burned out at work.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) physician burnout is defined as:

“…a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment.”

If left unchecked, physician burnout not only negatively impacts a practice or healthcare organization financially; it also has the potential to have a damaging effect on the online reputation of the practice or group.

What Causes Physician Burnout?

Before you make meaningful changes to combat physician burnout you will need to know the major causes of the burnout to avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

According to an AHRQ-funded study, more than half of primary care physicians said they were stressed mainly due to the lack of time available.

Specifically, more than half of the group surveyed were experiencing “time pressures”‌ when they were conducting physical exams on patients and a third of the same group felt they needed 50 percent more time for the exam. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of the group needed at least 50 percent more time for follow-up exams.

Additional findings from Medscape also point to process-related issues leading to burnout. Of the 15,000 physicians (spanning 29 various specialties) surveyed by Medscape, 44 percent said they were burned out. Specifically, the top three reasons for physician burnout include:

  • Plenty of “bureaucratic tasks,” such as charting and paperwork (59 percent)
  • Too many hours at work (34 percent)
  • Increased computerization at the practice, e.g. electronic health records (32 percent)

One or a combination of these issues can make physicians feel burnt out at the workplace. According to the AHRQ report, this physician burnout state leads to:

  • A reduction in patient access to and continuity of care
  • A growing threat to patient safety and care quality when burned-out physicians suffer from impaired attention, memory, or executive function

These lapses in professionalism can be easily noticed by patients during their visit. In some cases, it’s more than enough to prompt patients to write reviews, which can severely impact the online reputation of a practice or health organization.

Survey data from ReviewTrackers showed reviews – specifically those for primary care physicians – as highly influential to 66.3 percent of consumers when it comes to choosing a new provider. For context, physician reviews are the second-highest influential reviews when it comes to choosing a new service provider.

physician burnout

In addition, these negative reviews can also have an adverse effect on physician burnout to the point where negative reviews can even put a damper on an already-strained physician. In an interview by Medscape, one dermatologist brought up the role negative reviews have in overall burnout.

“[The] fear of litigation, bad reviews, and complaints make everything worse,” they said. This begs the question…

How Do You Deal with Physician Burnout?

The good news is there are multiple ways to reduce physician burnout. However, you shouldn’t expect these changes to take effect overnight. These methods will take time to have an effect, but sticking to these methods and listening to your physicians can thwart physician burnout and make the work environment better in the long run.

Reducing Physician Burnout Method 1: Reduce Physician Workload and Streamline the Process

The Medscape survey pointed to the rising workload of “bureaucratic tasks,” specifically included charting and paperwork, as the top source for burnout and it makes sense. Spending too much time on non-patient-facing tasks can negatively affect a physician’s main ability to properly diagnose and treat each patient, which results in an overall negative experience for the patient.

However, you can take the first steps to alleviating this stress on the physician by distributing the bureaucratic work among other staff members. 

This does two things:‌ it frees up valuable time for the physician and it gives them more time to control other clinical issues. In other words, taking the paperwork load off the physician gives them more time to focus on the most important aspect of their profession: the patients.

Reducing Physician Burnout Method 2: Increase Time Spent with Each Patient and Reduce the‌‌ Number of Patients Seen Every Day

All of the time received from reducing paperwork might make it tempting to add more patients to see in the daily schedule. However, this is counter-productive to a doctor’s overall engagement with each patient. The AHRQ-funded study already revealed the growing concern of a lack of time with exams and follow-up appointments.

Adding more people to see every day only reduces the time spent with each patient, which can make doctors seem disengaged and not invested in every person that walks into their room.

What organizations and private practices should do instead is reduce the number of patients seen every day, but increase the time spent with each person. This gives physicians the time they sorely need for each person to provider a better diagnosis and treatment.

The additional time spent with each person also means a better opportunity to grow the relationship between doctor and patient. This type of interaction is worth its weight in gold, especially when the patient provides valuable, and more importantly, positive feedback online for everyone to see.

Reducing Physician Burnout Method 3: Share Positive Reviews with Staff

Reviews are vital to the success of every physician, and a healthy segment of positive reviews not only attracts more patients; it can also raise the morale of your staff.

Staff morale is important in every workplace, and it’s no different in the healthcare industry. Patients will notice a happier environment if they walk into the doctor’s office and see a highly motivated and ecstatic staff. By telling physicians, nurses, and other workers about the great feedback left by patients you provide much-needed positive reinforcement to the entire staff.

Positive patient feedback is one of the best ways to encourage the workplace, and more people are willing to provide it. Online review survey data revealed more people were likely to leave a positive review in 2018 than they did in the previous year so give them something to write about in their review. This can range from the happy and helpful staff, the attentive nurses, or even the increased amount of time spent with doctor with each visit.

It’s also worth noting the importance of responding to patient reviews. People want to know their feedback is being heard especially by you. Make sure you take the time to thank them for their review, but do it in a way that doesn’t violate important HIPAA guidelines.

Getting Ahead of Physician Burnout

With 44 percent of physicians already feeling burnt out it’s more likely that someone on your staff is already feeling the negative affects associated with burnout. However, you can take steps to curb it by following one or more of the methods prescribed (no pun intended) above.

Reducing burnout might mean noticeable changes in the work environment but when done correctly those alteration leads to better physicians, improved staff morale, and happier patients who are more likely to leave positive feedback about their experience. These reviews are easily noticed by prospective customers looking for a better doctor to improve their well-being.

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