The U.S. physician shortage is projected to hit 130,000 by 2025. This means that doctors are working overtime to cover the country’s healthcare needs and Physician burnout has become a serious issue.
Emergency Medicine Physicians have it the worst: as medical students choose to enter areas of the medical profession other than primary care, the number of primary care physicians (PCP) dwindles. As a result, more and more patients begin to use the ER instead of a visit to their elusive PCP.
On top of this, increased demand for ERs is not being met with an appropriate supply. Between 1995 and 2010, the CDC reported that annual ER visits in the United States increased by 34%. During the same time period, the number of hospitals with ERs decreased by 11%. In short: fewer facilities, more patients, and not enough doctors are all adding up to to a pretty chaotic environment for those who choose the profession of medicine.
While these statistics paint a clear picture about the root of physician burnout, its specific causes can also be tracked and traced. Here are just a few major factors that medical professionals report lead to job-related burnout.
Lack of Administrative Support
As hospitals become more and more concerned with their bottom line, doctors spend more time answering to businesspeople and throughput statistics. Most doctors enter the field of healthcare with a genuine desire to do good in the lives of their patients. However, that is not how they seem to be evaluated. A shortage of doctors means an increased patient load, which in turn means that clinicians are required to spend less and less time with each patient in order to meet quotas and keep the hospital running.
The result? The dehumanization of care. Churning through patients in as little time as possible, doctors rarely have an opportunity to ensure that they are providing the best possible healthcare. Such whirlwind speed leaves doctors little time to connect with their patients, which in turn means that they miss the positive aspects of their job. Increased pressure from business administrators to see more and more patients means that doctors fail to execute the parts of the job that they find joyful, which directly leads to burnout.
Lack of Self-Care Infrastructures
As any parent can attest, taking care of others is hard work. Medical professionals are subject to a great deal of day-to-day stress. The job of caring often takes it toll on the doctor. Despite this well-known phenomenon, there are almost no infrastructures in place to help doctors prioritize their own well-being.
Burnout is on the rise amongst physicians; a 2015 study done by the Mayo Clinic shows that 54% of doctors experienced at least one symptom of burnout in 2014. In 2011, that number was 45%. During that same time period, burnout rates amongst other professions remained constant.
Despite this clear evidence of a problem within the medical field, the profession has yet to meaningfully address it. Doctors are increasingly advised to care more for others without being given any encouragement or concrete methods through which to care for themselves. In the process of constantly giving, doctors are not left with much for themselves.
The ripples of Obamacare have been felt throughout the medical community. However, the impact it has had on physician burnout is largely geo-dependent. Several areas of the country have been able to increase the amount of physician coverage to deal with their new patients, while others have not. Washington State, Colorado, and Kentucky are some of the most negatively affected networks; while areas such as California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania were not as heavily impacted.
In addition to this, it is a known fact that rural states have fewer physicians than their more cosmopolitan brethren. Doctors working out of Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, and Wyoming face a staggering ratio of fewer than 200 physicians per 100,000 people while states like Massachusetts have more than double that number.
What does this mean to burnout? Physicians working in rural areas are more likely to have an unmanageable patient load. Unmanageable patient load quickly leads to a poor work/life balance which, in turn, leads to Physician burnout.
As doctors increase their patient load, technology has worked to address the complex tasks of managing patients, billing, and the various other jobs that come with seeing so many people on a daily basis. While electronic medical recording (“EMR”) has become standard in the field, it has brought with it a host of burnout-related problems.
Via EMR, doctors take on not just the work of diagnosing and treating patients, but also that of bookkeeping and data entry. Physicians are required to make box-checking a portion of their time with a patient. EMR means that most of a visit with a doctor might be spent with the doctor’s nose in a tablet or facing a computer screen rather than interfacing with the patient.
With so many patients to see and downtime in between patients ever dwindling, the doctor’s work is reduced to the more menial functions of the system. Such reduction of a person’s talents and passions can quickly lead to burnout.
Lack of Workplace Fairness
In medicine, as in all fields, the workplace plays a huge role in worker burnout. One factor that can easily cause burnout is a lack of fairness. The statistics are staggering; 52% of medical professionals can be terminated without due process. With such unstable job security, it’s no wonder that burnout can become a harsh reality.
As if this weren’t bad enough, 75% of board certified emergency physicians have felt financially exploited at some point during their career. With such an overwhelming majority, it is a small wonder that only 49% have considered leaving the field due to unfair business practices.
The lack of fairness begins early in a doctor’s career; the credentialing process (the bottleneck to staffing and securing your first job) alone can take up to six months of paperwork. The good news is that technology will make credentialing the easiest part of becoming a doctor. Developments are being made to create a solution to cut through the red tape in minutes and eliminate the piles of forms & paperwork, allowing doctors to spend their valuable time on their terms, not some administrators.
What other solutions can you think of to tackle Physician burnout?
Dr. Larson is the Founder & CEO of MedSpoke. A ‘Credentialing as a Service’ Company. MedSpoke streamlines credentialing for Hospital / Facilities, Payers / Enrollment and State Licensing through their powerful software platform and Concierge Credentialing experience. To learn more about MedSpoke click here.