'Tough it out' attitude has changed, provides hope for addressing doc burnout


Physician burnout remains a problem, but hope is on the horizon as hospitals and practices have finally begun to acknowledge and address the issue.

Historically, hospitals and large practices have done a poor job of dealing with burnout, according to an article in Modern Medicine. Bridget Duffy, M.D., told the publication her attempts to promote work-life balance, which were rebuffed by a major health system provider a decade ago, have gained new traction as the industry becomes more patient-centered. “Every other industry understands that if you have a healthy, loyal, engaged workforce, you have an improved bottom line and loyal customers,” she says, while healthcare has been late to the party but is finally abandoning that tough it up mentality.

Admitting to burnout can be difficult because there’s a certain amount of stigma attached to an admission of stress. Left unchecked, such job-related stress can wind up morphing into post-traumatic stress disorder, Daniel Kuhn, M.D., told General Surgery News. Training physicians early to recognize stress and seek out mentors, peers or professional counselors for help can help keep them practicing medicine longer and more effectively, he says.

Other positive changes have come as an outgrowth of changes to practice design related to the shift toward quality-based care. Duffy advocates for the establishment of a “physician well-being” metric for practices to track. The prospect of linking electronic health record more smoothly to a physician’s workflow, whether through delegation or improved regulation, would also help doctors focus more on their work and feel less like data-entry clerks, argues Christine Sinsky, M.D., vice president of Professional Satisfaction at the American Medical Association.

Duffy sees the movement to an improved physician experience as inextricably linked to a focus on improving the patient experience. Where past initiatives focused on cost or quality outcomes, patient satisfaction and “the human experience” have recently become a higher priority. “You can’t focus on the patient experience until you first focus on the staff experience,” she says.