Hospitals aren't doing enough to stop burnout, physicians say

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published June 20, 2016

Key Takeaways

Almost 3 out of 4 (74%) of primary care physicians and emergency medicine doctors said their health care facility or practice is not taking effective steps to address and prevent burnout, according to a May 2016 survey of 200 U.S. PCPs and ED physicians conducted by InCrowd, a health care market intelligence firm based in Boston, MA.

Primary care and emergency medicine doctors report some of the highest physician burnout rates. More than half (57%) of PCPs and ED physicians responding to this survey said they had experienced burnout. An additional 37% of respondents said that although they hadn’t been burnout themselves, they knew others who had.

More than a third (37%) of respondents said they felt frustrated by their work every day or at least a few days every week.

These findings echo other studies on physician burnout, such as the 54.4% burnout rate found by the Mayo Clinic study of December 2015, and the 40% to 55% burnout range across 25 clinical specialties in the MedScape Lifestyles study of January 2016.

“Our study corroborates a stubborn undercurrent of physician burnout, as documented elsewhere, that isn’t going away,” said Diane Hayes, PhD, co-founder and president of InCrowd.

The survey used the Maslach Burnout Inventory of symptoms—the same index as used by the Mayo Clinic and MedScape studies—which defines burnout as decreased enthusiasm for work, depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.

The top cause of physician burnout was time pressure, respondents reported. “I’m trying to balance the need to work faster, see more patients, generate more income for others (ie, ACO’s, hospitals, insurers) against the fear of error, facing irate families, malpractice juries. It hardly seems worth the trouble when all I wanted to do was practice medicine and help people,” said one ER physician from Florida.

The second most reported cause of burnout was electronic medical records (EMRs), which “nearly double the time and expense of medical practice for most direct patient care physicians, including physicians in training, without increasing any type of reimbursement,” one PCP stated.

The survey, like the Mayo Clinic study, also suggested that administrative leadership impacts physicians’ well-being and job satisfaction.

“Medicine is still a noble career, and can be very rewarding,” said an emergency medicine physician from California. “However, autonomy is gone, and it is frustrating to have to change practice based on metrics, measures, etc. that are often not patient-centered, nor evidence based.”

One telling finding—nearly 3 in 5 physicians (58%) were either unsure about or decidedly against recommending a career in medicine to a child or family member.

“We’ll be monitoring this important topic as health care executives work to make sure those who keep us well are also keeping themselves intact, too,” Dr. Hayes said.

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