A medical charter to address physician burnout, promote wellness

With more than half of U.S. doctors experiencing burnout, a number of leading medical organizations have created a medical charter to help address the problem.

The charter on physician well-being was created by the Collaborative for Healing in Medicine, a group of leading medical centers and organizations, and was published in JAMA to serve as a model for healthcare organizations to minimize and manage physician burnout, and also promote physician well-being.

"This is a first step on a national level to lay out guiding principles and commitments that we consider essential for physician well-being throughout a career, beginning with the earliest training," Colin West, M.D., a physician-researcher at the Mayo Clinic and senior author of the charter, said in an announcement.

The charter was endorsed or supported by many major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AMA called the charter a catalyst for addressing the growing problem of physician burnout.

“Achieving national health goals depends on an energized, engaged and resilient physician workforce. But the mounting burdens of the modern healthcare delivery system are taking a toll on physicians by contributing to the growing problem of work-induced burnout and emotional fatigue,” said AMA President David O. Barbe, M.D., in an announcement.

The charter encourages organizations, medical leaders and policymakers to address the issue. It calls for adequate support systems for physicians dealing with stress, overwork and mental health issues. It encourages organizations and institutions to make changes ranging from re-engineering work schedules and personnel policies to providing wellness and counseling programs for physicians.

Research last year found that burnout has led 1 in 5 doctors to plan to reduce their clinical hours. And roughly 1 in 50 plans to leave medicine altogether within the next two years.

Given what it costs for healthcare organizations to replace physicians, coupled with an existing shortage of primary care doctors, researchers say the healthcare system and society in general should be worried about the toll of burnout.