The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Physician burnout: Protect yourself and your business

No one decides to become a doctor because they’re looking for a low-stress profession. Most physicians choose this path out of a legitimate desire to help people, to connect on a personal level, and to make a difference in the lives of their patients. But the fact is, physicians are at higher risk of burnout than professionals in other fields — and it’s on the rise.

healthcare worker suffering burnout

At a Glance

  • Burnout, a growing and pervasive issue, negatively impacts providers, patients, and practices
  • Rest is essential to burnout recovery and prevention
  • Automating workflows for efficiency can allow for more rest

Significant changes to the healthcare industry in the last decade or so have impacted day-to-day practices, adding to the burden on physicians — and the risk of burnout. The global pandemic amplified stress for many in the medical field, with overall burnout increasing by 5% and ER and critical care physicians experiencing the highest levels of burnout by specialty.

47% of physicians experienced burnout in 2021 compared to 42% in 2020. ”

The 3 main symptoms of physician burnout are exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of efficacy. In addition to the negative impact on provider health, burnout poses a serious threat to the profitability and long-term viability of your practice. According to the American Journal of Critical Care, it’s also been associated with increased medical errors — making it all the more important that independent practice owners and physicians do whatever you can to minimize stress.

16% of doctors say 'having to work long hours' is the most challenging part of their job ”

With patient demand and expectations also increasing, it’s time to be proactive about avoiding burnout. Here are some of the steps you can take right now to ease the burden on your physicians (or yourself), to the benefit of everyone.

Adopt a unified practice management platform

The steady increase in bureaucratic tasks that doctors have to complete to maintain regulatory compliance, and the long hours it takes to get it all done, contribute significantly to increasing burnout. Both insurance regulations and overall healthcare regulations are increasingly stringent. Today, doctors are required to report quality measures, comply with HIPAA, and use a certified EHR system, all of which add work. According to a Mayo Clinic study, the average physician now spends roughly half of their workday plus 28 additional night and weekend hours per month completing EHR tasks.

7 out of 10 physicians (71%) agree that EHRs greatly contribute to burnout, and 6 out of 10 (59%) think EHRs need a complete overhaul. ”

So, what can be done to lighten the load on doctors without risking falling out of compliance? Adopting a modern, digital platform to manage both the front and back end of your practice can help to streamline and simplify administrative tasks, saving time and stress. Plus, putting in less time on manual tasks gives you more time to do what you really love — spend time with your patients and provide the best possible care.

An intuitive EHR system can save you time by making charting and reporting easier. Look for a platform with an easy user interface that’s also cloud-based, so you can access it from anywhere. Flexible documentation tools allow you to do things like create notes, write prescriptions, and code encounters quickly and easily. Additionally, features like pre-built templates, text shortcuts, and note duplication can also speed things up while still letting you capture the depth of detail you need.

Choosing an EHR system that integrates with billing and scheduling tools also helps to accelerate payments, minimize error-based denials, and personalize the patient experience — all of which can have a positive impact on overall practice health. And the better your practice is running, the less stress on you.

Empower your whole team

While automation and digital transformation are widely used in many industries, healthcare has been slow to the table. Many healthcare providers still rely on disparate systems and outdated processes, which makes the day-to-day business of running a practice more burdensome on the whole team.

Front office staff, billing companies, and care providers, including nurses and medical assistants, can all benefit from a modern, cloud-based practice management platform that’s both automated and integrated. By automating things like appointment scheduling and reminders, intake forms, and prescription refills, you can save everyone time and optimize your entire operation. Just be sure to look for a solution that comes with training and support so you can get your whole staff up to speed quickly.

Physician burnout costs the healthcare system an estimated $4.6 billion per year. ”

With independent practices, physicians are often the owners, too, and tend to take a “if you want the job done right, do it yourself” approach to administration. But as a physician, your time is the most valuable and should be put to the best use. Maximizing physician productivity and practice revenue are easier if you delegate.

For example, if you have medical assistants or nurses on your team, consider assigning part of the charting and note work to them to give you more time to focus on care. Replacing the clipboard with digital forms to collect information before a visit also helps to streamline processes and lets you see pertinent information before you enter the exam room. This elevates the experience for both you and your patients, creating the kind of quality connection that makes being a doctor so satisfying — another good way to avoid burnout.

Take time for self-care

In addition to taking advantage of technology to streamline workflows, increase efficiency, and improve the physician experience, it’s also important to tend to your own physical and emotional needs. Practicing medicine is inherently stressful, and so is owning a business — making it all the more vital that you take regular breaks. Working long hours can take a toll on both mental and physical health, and it compounds over time.

According to the Medscape Physician Lifestyle and Happiness report, 49% of physicians take 3 to 4 weeks off per year while 27% take just 1 to 2. Broken down into employed vs. self-employed physicians, those working for themselves are taking even less time off than their employed peers.

34% of physicians say spending too many hours at work contributes to burnout. ”

Taking steps to optimize end-to-end practice management can help provide the peace of mind you need to be able to take much-needed breaks. Knowing that your practice is running smoothly, from promoting growth, to retaining patients, to staying in the black, makes it easier to step away throughout the year. Automating simple tasks like appointment scheduling, reminders, and feedback requests saves your staff time while also improving your patient experience — both of which can increase revenue. Plus, when you’re more profitable, you can afford to bring in outside help while you’re away.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for everyone, especially those in high-stress jobs. One of the best things you can do for your practice is prioritize your own health and well-being. Schedule time during the week to spend with your family. Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. Make sure you get enough sleep. And take time out of your busy schedule to do whatever makes you happy — whether that’s reading a book, going outside, or just relaxing and doing nothing. Doctors tend to have a superhuman complex, but you don’t have to be everything to everyone. Make sure you take good care of yourself, too.

Get ahead of physician burnout

Being a doctor can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be incredibly stressful. When you suffer from burnout, your whole practice suffers. To ensure you can continue to provide the best possible care to your patients for the longterm, take immediate steps to proactively lessen your risk of burnout.

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Written by

Jean Lee, Managing Editor at The Intake

Jean Lee is a content expert with years of journalism and marketing experience — along with a constant passion to help and engage others through storytelling. She is the managing editor at The Intake, where independent practices can go to access content, insights, and resources that help them thrive.

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