Burnout Causes and Consequences

Burnout Causes and Consequences
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Dealing With Burnout

Burnout on the Rise Among Healthcare Professionals

Long-term stress is an escalating problem among medical professionals. According to recent findings from Mayo Clinic, burnout rates continue to grow and physicians are finding it more difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Burnt out physicians are more likely to leave their practices, thereby decreasing patient access to care.

Moreover, physicians are twice as likely to commit suicide in comparison to other professionals. Suicide rates account for over 26% of deaths among physicians aged 25 to 39 in the U.S. Working to address physician burnout starts by being able to identify the early warning signs of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished confidence. From there, it is about recognizing and preventing the causes and consequences of burnout.

Burnout Causes

Throughout the years, several research has gone into identifying the causes of burnout, in hopes of preventing it from occurring. A great deal of burnout cases have been seen to be triggered by the following causes:

  1. Excessive clerical tasks
    Nowadays, physicians have to conduct more administrative tasks and this is getting in their way of providing quality care to patients. “Physicians want to provide our patients with the best care possible, but today there are confusing, misaligned and burdensome regulatory programs that take away critical time physicians could be spending to provide high-quality care for their patients” said Robert M. Wah, president of the American Medical Association.
  2. Decreased patient time
    Most physicians go into the field of medicine for the love of science and willingness to provide quality care. In a Medscape survey conducted among physicians in 2014, over 70% revealed that EHR reduced their face time with patients. With excessive workloads pertaining to data entry, physicians are finding it more difficult to spend their time effectively working and caring for patients.
  3. Diminished income
    Medical education requires time and effort, but it also costs a lot. Several physicians have debts that they need to pay off; however, with health care reforms taking a turn, incomes are diminishing and workloads are increasing. Such issues are leading to decreased physician satisfaction and high rates of physician burnout. “A physician can ace 99% of the requirements and still get penalized for flunking the remaining 1%” said Robert Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
  4. Extended work hours
    With today’s decreasing reimbursement rates, physicians are still high in demand, although they are being asked to put in a great deal of effort with little time. Findings from Physicians Foundation survey conducted back in 2014 revealed that more than 80% of physicians were overwhelmed by work or had reached their full capacity. Extended work hours resulting in making patient appointments, looking over patient charts, and filling out paperwork has led to physicians finding it difficult to juggle a work-life balance.

Consequences of Burnout

  1. Poor patient care
    Physician burnout has been linked with difficulty concentrating, easy distraction, and poor decision-making. Physicians who are both emotionally and physically drained cannot provide high quality patient care. This, in turn, can result in diminished physician-patient relationships. In a recent Medscape survey conducted among physicians, over 10% identified the severity of their burnout at 6 or 7, on a scale of 1 (“does not interfere with my life”) and 7 (“so severe that I’m thinking of leaving medicine”).
  2. High suicide rates
    Every year in the United States alone, over 400 physicians commit suicide. Surprising results reveal that a high number of physicians who express warning signs of burnout are likely to consider committing suicide. Moreover, depression can greatly impact family life and a physician’s ability to provide quality care.
  3. Early retirement
    As the number of patients with insurance begins to grow, so does the demand for physicians. However, due to burnout, several physicians are retiring early. Some are even switching careers. With physician shortage on the rise, patient access will be limited and workload will grow for those who remain. This, in turn, can result in decreased patient engagement and outcomes.

Excessive clinical tasks, decreased patient time, diminished income, and extended work hours are merely some of the most common causes of burnout. Other causes also include high pressure environment, loss of control over time and schedules, family responsibilities, negative work environment, and more. These causes can all lead to consequences of stress, including poor patient care, high suicide rates, and early retirement. However, physician burnout can also negatively affect patient satisfaction, professionalism, and thus lead to increased medical errors within the clinical setting.

The fact of the matter is that burnout is a long-term reaction to stress and it takes time to properly combat it. The most important thing is to be able to identify the early warning signs of it and take measures to address burnout before it occurs. By focusing on physician self-care, those who practice medicine can create a viable work environment, all the while providing accessible and high quality patient care.

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