More and more doctors are suffering from professional burnout and health systems must do more

More and more doctors are suffering from professional burnout and health systems must do more

A panel of doctors said it was not about building resilience. Healthcare organizations need to provide resources and reduce the burdens on their physicians.

More and more doctors are suffering from burnout, and it is becoming a serious concern for health officials.

Physician burnout has hit a new high, according to a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers reported that 63% of physicians experienced burnout in 2021, compared to 38.2% in 2020. The American Medical Association teamed up with researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Medicine as part of the study.

Health Affairs hosted a virtual roundtable on Thursday with several health leaders. Alain Weill, Health Affairs editor-in-chief, asked the participants, all physicians, about how to deal with burnout.

Some members made a point at the beginning of the discussion. They focused more on the need for structural changes, in organizations and health policy, than on strengthening doctors.

“The problem is not a deficit of resilience in individual physicians,” said Christine Sinsky, vice president of job satisfaction for the AMA.

Policy makers are paying more attention to the well-being of doctors and other healthcare workers. President Joe Biden signed legislation this year ordering grants to health organizations to address burnout and mental health. Health groups lobbied for the bill, dubbed the Lorna Breen Act, after an emergency physician died by suicide in April 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An organizational challenge

It’s important to understand that burnout is different from mental illness, panelists agreed.

“Burnout is not a mental illness,” Sinsky said. “It’s a professional distress syndrome.”

Physicians, including panel members, cited a host of factors contributing to burnout, including the stress of treating COVID-19 patients for more than two years. Growing staff shortages are increasing the burden on doctors, especially as health systems are now seeing patients who deferred care during the pandemic and are now very sick.

However, some burdens are more familiar, including the stress of documentation and the hassle of electronic medical record systems. Physicians are spending more time outside of work dealing with documentation on patient charts, panelists said.

Samuel T. Edwards, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and a veterans system physician in Portland, said, “Burnout is both a practice and an individual-level phenomenon.”

“Burnout is an organizational-level phenomenon that requires an organizational-level response,” Edwards said.

Many physicians do not feel that their employers care about their well-being. According to a survey released earlier this month by the Physicians Foundation, just over one in three physicians (36%) said their workplace culture prioritizes their well-being.

Health organizations need to provide resources for their doctors to get help, but they need to make sure doctors know what help is available, said Amy Frieman, director of wellness at Hackensack Meridian Health.

“It’s not just about having the resources…it’s about making sure physicians know about those resources, but more importantly, that they’re comfortable accessing those resources” , Frieman said.

Many doctors are still afraid to seek help for their mental health because they fear it will have negative professional ramifications, especially with their license to practice. Nearly 4 in 10 said they were afraid or knew someone who was hesitant to seek help because of questions about getting a license or insurance claims. At the request of health advocates, some licensure committees have changed the mental health questions.

Group members agreed that reducing the administrative burden on physicians will greatly contribute to their well-being. A Medscape survey of physicians in January 2022 found that bureaucratic aspects of healthcare emerged as the biggest contributing factor to burnout.

“Our doctors are incredibly overwhelmed and frustrated when it comes to documentation,” Frieman said.

Doctors find less fulfillment in their jobs, largely because of burnout, according to the AMA study. Just over half of all doctors (57.5%) said they would choose a career as a doctor if they could do it again, up from 72.2% in 2020.

A burden for women, doctors of color

Female physicians particularly suffer from burnout, panel members agreed. According to the Physicians Foundation survey, more than two in three female physicians (68%) reported suffering from burnout, compared to 58% of male physicians.

“We’re seeing high rates of women burning out and leaving the workforce,” said Vineet Arora, professor of medicine and dean of medical education at the University of Chicago Medicine.

According to a study published in Open Jama Network. Female physicians were more likely to have work conflicts and symptoms of depression, while taking on more childcare duties. Women were also more likely to reduce their hours.

There’s a glaring lack of data on mental health and doctors of color, said Rachel Villanueva, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. She said this underscores the need “to diversify research and the need for researchers of color,” as well as the need to find more researchers who are at least interested in the challenges faced by doctors of color.

Black doctors and doctors from other underrepresented groups endure the same hassle of paperwork and long hours. However, physicians who are members of minority groups also face “systemic racism”, as well as microaggressions and prejudices.

Doctors ‘deserve better’

Even as physicians increasingly face burnout, there’s no clear evidence that it’s harming patient care, said Lawrence Casalino, professor of health policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College. Casalino is the lead author of a recent study on Health Affairs on how physician burnout affects patient outcomes.

“At least in the short term, patients of exhausted physicians may get better quality,” Casalino said. “Diligent physicians may work harder than other physicians and care more about their patients, and may be more likely to burn out.”

However, he added, “‘How much that can be supported is another question.’

The Physicians Foundation has worked with the Lorna Breen Foundation to raise awareness of the need to protect the mental health of physicians. They also created a campaign, “Vital Signs,” to prevent physician suicide.

Gary Price, president of the Physicians Foundation, said he was part of a sad brotherhood. He is one of many doctors who have lost a colleague to suicide.

“It’s undeniable that our physicians need and deserve better,” Price said.

Help is available

Find resources to prevent physician suicide

The Lifeline 988 Suicide & Crisis

#doctors #suffering #professional #burnout #health #systems

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.