A startling 79% of primary care physicians are burned out, new report finds

Physician burnout
Primary care physicians are more often suffering burnout, according to a new survey. (DigitalVision/Getty Images)

Burnout rates among doctors are high, but nowhere more so than among primary care physicians (PCPs), according to a new study.

Some 79% of PCPs say they have experienced symptoms of burnout, compared to 68% among all the physicians surveyed, according to the study by InCrowd. Among all the specialists surveyed—when PCPs were excluded—the burnout rate was 57%.

The study rebuts a report released earlier this year that optimistically reported declining burnout levels among physicians. After climbing for the last six years, that survey reported the first drop—however modest—in the number of physicians who say they suffer from burnout. Some 43.9% of doctors exhibited at least one symptom of burnout in that study conducted by researchers from the American Medical Association (AMA), the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University School of Medicine.

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Despite high burnout rates and national attention to the problem, only 25% of the InCrowd survey respondents say their facilities are effective in combating burnout.

The study also found burnout was higher among younger physicians. Those in their 30s and 40s reported the highest rates of burnout (74%), with rates dropping among older doctors.

The findings are from a survey of U.S.-based PCPs and specialists taken in early June by InCrowd, a Boston area market insights technology firm. Respondents included 320 PCPs and 319 specialists.

“The alarming persistence of physician burnout over the years and across multiple studies, unfortunately, demonstrates that we have not yet turned the tide on this problematic issue,” said Diane Hayes, Ph.D., co-founder and president of InCrowd.

Since InCrowd last surveyed physician burnout in 2016, there have been no noticeable improvements, she said. “The healthcare industry would benefit from refining and expanding current initiatives to assure adequate staffing levels needed to deliver the quality care patients deserve,” she said.

RELATED: The high cost of physician burnout—$4.6B a year

The survey indicates that despite all the efforts by the healthcare industry to try and lower physician burnout rates, it’s not enough. Only 20% of doctors working in hospitals reported their facilities effectively address burnout compared to those who work in private practices (27% effective).

But the survey suggests there are solutions. Those who said their facilities effectively address burnout credit workplace initiatives that improve workflow (46%), provide schedule flexibility (45%), and support wellness (41%).

RELATED: Burnout, time spent on EHRs top challenges for independent practice leaders

Over half of respondents report that increased support staffing (66%), mandatory vacation time or half-days (57%), and reduced patient volume (56%) are likely to help alleviate physician burnout.

Graphic showing survey results

More than one-third (34%) would not recommend a career in medicine to family members or friends.

“It would be hard to see someone you care about go through the stress of medical school, residency and fellowship knowing that they will face pressure to see as many patients as possible, EMR [electronic medical records] stress, administrative duties, etc. all while being reimbursed less and less with time,” said a specialist in a group practice.

Where you can find help

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week for people in suicidal crisis or distress, or for those who are helping a person in crisis.
  • For online chat, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides a confidential chat window with counselors available 24/7.

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