What Is Physician Burnout and How to Prevent It?

The practice of medicine is fulfilling and meaningful; however, it can be overwhelmingly stressful and demanding, causing physician burnout. Burnout is more predominant among physicians more than any other workers across the country. The highest cases of physician burnout recorded are among physicians within specialties at the frontline, such as emergency medicine, general internal medicine, and family medicine. In this article, we seek to delve into explaining physician burnout, its cardinal symptoms, common causes, impacts on the physician and healthcare system, and ways to prevent it. 

Presentation and symptoms of physician burnout

Burnout presents itself as physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that occurs after prolonged stress. Burnout occurs gradually over a long period and can easily go unnoticed. According to a recent study by the American Journal of Medicine, one out of every two physicians experiences burnout despite proper organizational systems, time management, and rigorous training. Below is a list of some of the symptoms that can help you identify potential physician burnout:

Physical symptoms

  • Constant muscle aches
  • Constant feelings of exhaustion
  • Frequent illnesses due to a weakened immunity system
  • Irregular sleeping and eating habits

Mental and behavioral symptoms

  • Neglect of responsibilities
  • Social isolation
  • Resorting to drugs, alcohol, or food as coping mechanisms
  • Constant procrastination
  • Neglect of duties at work

Emotional symptoms

  • Detachment from colleagues and patients
  • Constant self-doubt
  • Frequent feelings of despair
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feelings of emotional exhaustion
  • Absence of feelings of fulfillment

Physicians experiencing burnout are more predisposed to make errors, such as misdiagnosis. They will offer less quality of service and care to their patients and consequently receive lower patient satisfaction.  

Common causes of physician burnout and how TempDev can provide solutions

Healthcare is undoubtedly very demanding, time-consuming, and emotionally involving. Professional healthcare givers such as doctors and nurses spend their entire days providing care and treatment to the hurt, sick, and their families 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their practice involves high pressure, little control, and great responsibility. Here are some of the top three causes of physician burnout:

  1. The specifics of the job
    The general stress of serving and treating patients include long hours, large numbers of patients, and understaffed healthcare institutions. In addition to this, physicians at different levels and in various specialties still have to navigate the specifics of the job and handle non-patient duties that come with the situation, such as administrative duties and clerical work. A study carried out in 2014 explains how non-patient tasks can pose higher chances of physician burnout. For every one hour spent treating a patient, physicians have to spend another two hours filling in details such as progress reports, follow-ups on the lab, making prescriptions, and reviewing results without extra pay.
    Remedies such as increased staffing can offload pressures that come with non-patient duties and administrative tasks, but aren’t always feasable. The inclusion of a seamless workflow would also eliminate stress by efficiently handling the flow of patient information and the flow of patients. TempDev consultants are trained to identify physician pain points in workflows and recommend the best solutions to alleviate these. 
  2. Organizational setbacks
    Healthcare facilities require streamlined systems to improve the working environment and reduce the chances of burnout. It is crucial to eliminate any organizational pitfalls which may contribute to burnout; for example, there are limited avenues for advancement, lack of interpersonal collaborations, increased workload expectations, poor leadership, and insufficient compensation.
    Organizations that are physician-friendly suffer fewer cases of burnout. These measures include seamless structures that offer sufficient reward systems and staffing solutions such as staff augmentation to reduce pressure on the existing staff. Improvements and upgrades of technology such as Electronic Health Records (EHR) in the organization would also offer physicians easier ways to input patient details and save on time. TempDev consultants are well versed in solutions to benefit your NextGen EHR system and can provide recommendations on how to ease burdens that providers face. 
  3. Personal traits and educational conditioning
    Specific character traits are essential to graduate from medical school. However, it is these same traits that later can cause burnout if not properly managed. Some of the four main character traits that are common in physicians include;
    • Lone ranger – works best alone, does not work well with others, and often micromanages their subordinates.
    • Workaholic – continually working, and can’t say no to more work.
    • Perfectionists – cannot fathom the possibility of making a mistake and places the same standard on their teams.
    • Superhero – feels responsible for every issue that arises and the pressured to solve it.

Recognizing your physician’s natural traits helps to identify the proper measures to implement to avoid burnout.

Additional remedies to prevent physician burnout

Away from the natural pressures, there are habits physicians can practice to help avoid a burnout such as:

  • Maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits to ensure a healthy body
  • Introducing exercise, meditation, and hobbies to disconnect and take a break
  • Setting personal and professional boundaries to manage time better and reduce the chances of overextension
  • Constant reminders of the reason you became a physician

Physician burnout is on the rise within the healthcare industry, and if it remains unaddressed, it could significantly impact the healthcare system. A healthy and happy physician is an essential part of the system because it directly impacts the quality of care provided to the patients.

At TempDev we understand this and readily offer consultants and services that can effectively guide you through staffing solutions, workflow solutions, and tools that will help you avoid physician burnout in your organization. Contact us at 888.TEMP.DEV to discuss how we can help. 

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