In a survey of U.S. physicians, more than half reported experiencing at least one symptom of burnout—a substantial increase over previous years—indicating that burnout among physicians is becoming a national health crisis, according to a Health Affairs blog. Leadership is needed to address the root causes of the problem and to reposition the health care workforce for the future, the authors contend.
Burnout is an experience of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of low achievement and decreased effectiveness. Although the focus of the blog was on physicians, the authors noted that burnout is also a serious problem for nurses and other health care workers.
According to the article, the spike in reported burnout is directly attributable to the loss of control at work; to increased performance measurement (quality, cost, patient experience); to the increasing complexity of medical care; to the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), and to inefficiencies in the practice environment, all of which have altered work flows and patient interactions.
“The high level of burnout among physicians should be considered an early warning sign of dysfunction in our health care system,” the authors write. “Professional satisfaction for physicians is primarily driven by the ability to provide high-quality care to patients in an efficient manner. Dissatisfaction is driven by factors that impede this effort, including administrative and regulatory burdens, limitations of current technology, an inefficient practice environment, excessive clerical work, and conflicting payer requirements.”
One of the key contributors to burnout involves EHRs. While they have the potential to make a major contribution to patient safety and enhanced coordination of care, EHRs also have radically altered and disrupted established workflows and patient interactions, have become a source of interruptions and distraction, and are very time-intensive, the authors note.
Their blog suggests that “health care delivery organizations, organized medicine, payers, and other interested parties need to work with EHR vendors to improve their product offerings, which could reduce EHRs’ burden on physicians.”
In September 2016, the CEOs of 10 leading health care delivery organizations held a meeting at the American Medical Association (AMA) headquarters in Chicago, where they reviewed the extent of physician burnout in the U.S. and the consequences for health-care delivery systems.
During the meeting, the executives shared effective interventions and successful practices from their institutions. They acknowledged that each CEO needs to address the specific issues that contribute to burnout in his or her organization. At the end of the meeting, the CEOs made commitments to: