At Mayo Clinic, burnout predicts whether physicians will cut work hours

At the same time the country faces predicted physician shortages over the next decade, burned out doctors are cutting back on the number of hours they work, a new study finds.

A study by the Mayo Clinic found that doctors who reported burnout and declining professional satisfaction were more likely to reduce the number of hours they devote to clinic practice. The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found burnout was a predictor of whether physicians will cut their work hours over the next 12 to 24 months.

Research released by the Mayo Clinic late last year found physician burnout has worsened in the last three years and now affects 55 percent of the workforce. "There is a societal imperative to provide physicians a better option than choosing between reducing clinical work or burning out. Physicians reducing their professional effort due to burnout could exacerbate the already substantial U.S. physician workforce shortage as well as impact continuity of care for patients," said Tait Shanafelt, M.D., Mayo Clinic physician and lead author of the study, in a study announcement.

Researchers from Mayo Clinic and Sirota Survey Intelligence surveyed 1,856 physicians in 2011 and 2,132 physicians in 2013 at Mayo Clinic campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota to measure their levels of burnout and work satisfaction. They then compared the results to seven years of administrative and payroll records for physicians. 

For every point increase in the seven-point scale used to measure emotional exhaustion, an indicator of burnout, there was a 40 percent greater likelihood a physician would cut back on work hours over the next two years, the researchers said. There was a similar result for every one-point decrease in the five-point scale use to measure professional satisfaction. At the Mayo Clinic, the number of physicians working less than full-time increased from 13.5 percent to 16 percent between 2008 and 2014.

The study has particular implications for several primary care disciplines, including family medicine and general internal medicine, Shanafelt said. Those specialties already have the largest projected physician shortages and some of the highest rates of burnout. And as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported, burnout isn't just getting more widespread, it is also getting more severe.

The Mayo Clinic and other healthcare organizations are taking the problem seriously. The Mayo Clinic has shown some early success at preventing burnout with its program that focuses on physician collaboration and camaraderie. The program offers physicians choice and flexibility, as well as opportunities to socialize with colleagues. Stanford University is also addressing the issue by providing physicians with opportunities to discuss challenges they face.

To learn more:
- read the study
- find the study announcement

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