Systemic tools, emotional support needed to address physician burnout

Although the practice of medicine is full of varied experiences of physicians, there's just one that equates to true satisfaction, according to research from the American Medical Association (AMA): Enough one-on-one time with patients and a feeling of satisfaction that you've done a good job at the end of the day.

On the flipside, interviews and focus groups conducted by the AMA revealed that physicians are dissatisfied with the busy atmosphere of the practice, electronic medical records and administrative overload, AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, M.D., told MedPage Today. These findings back up the AMA's prominent study with RAND Corp. confirming that the administrative burden of modern medicine is a root cause of physician burnout.

To help solve the problem, the AMA recently launched a new venture called AMA STEPS Forward, a series of web-based interactive modules designed to help doctors "work smarter, not harder," according to an announcement.

The 16 self-help modules on the website include topics such as the following:

  • Establishing systemic prescription renewals
  • Implementing electronic medical records
  • Creating a strong team culture
  • Encouraging medication adherence

The web-based program, in which the AMA has so far invested "well into the eight figures," according to MedPage Today, is available for free to the public. Physicians may get CME credits for using some of the modules.

Despite the promise of tools such as the AMA's to restore physicians' joy to practice, a previous commentary from MedPage Today emphasizes the need for physicians to receive emotional support as well.

For many physicians, it's a matter not just of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but of life or death, as 5 percent to 10 percent of physicians report suicidal ideations, noted author James W. Lynch, M.D., who revealed he'd at one time been among this at-risk group.

In sharing his story of struggling with burnout, depression, thoughts of suicide--and getting treatment--Lynch highlighted the importance for physicians of overcoming social stigmas surrounding depression. "Unless we can create safe space to seek help without fear of reprisal, nothing is going to change," he wrote.

To learn more:
- see the announcement from the AMA
- read the article and commentary from MedPage Today