There are over 1.7 million doctors in the U.S. alone. Physicians are generally happy in their career choice but remain at a higher risk of burnout than professionals in other fields.
Physician burnout remains a serious concern in the healthcare industry. Being a physician has always been a stressful job, and a number of factors are contributing to rising stress and increasing burnout. Rapid change in the industry, increasing regulations, and growing patient demands have all played a role, as has the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic, physicians are at a higher risk of burnout than those in other professional fields. And if you own your own practice, you’re managing the stressors associated with being a physician as well as those that come with running a business.
Nearly half of doctors experience physician burnout
What are the major causes of physician burnout, and who is it affecting? According to the 2022 Medscape poll on physician burnout, overall physician burnout increased from 42 percent in 2020 to 47 percent in 2021. This poses a risk not only to physicians’ health but also to their ability to deliver care effectively. Three main symptoms and causes of burnout are exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of efficacy.
The effects of physician burnout are far-reaching. Burnout has been associated with an increase in medical errors and when looking at burnout-related turnover, it could cost as much as $17 billion annually in the US alone. The 2022 MedScape Physician Burnout & Depression Report similarly found that of the 21 percent of physicians who report being depressed, 34 percent said they are more easily exasperated with patients and 23 percent said they’re less careful when taking patient notes as a result.
What causes physician burnout?
There are many reasons a physician might experience burnout. Here are five of the most common causes.
1. Completing too many administrative tasks
Most doctors did not get into medicine to sit behind a desk. Among those with physician burnout, 60 percent say too many bureaucratic tasks such as charting and paperwork are to blame. About a third say that the “computerization of the practice” or the rise of electronic health records (EHR) contributes.
So how much time are physicians spending on paperwork or related tasks? According to the Medscape Report, 74 percent say they spend at least 10 hours per week on administrative tasks alone, with 36 percent of this group saying they spend more than 20 hours a week. A recent Mayo Clinic study puts it even higher, with the average physician spending roughly half of their workday plus 28 additional night and weekend hours per month completing EHR tasks.
2. Not having enough time with patients
Spending more time on administrative tasks leaves physicians with less time for patient care, which is where most doctors find the most joy in their work.
In another recent report, doctors noted that their relationships with their patients were the most rewarding part of their job, followed by finding answers and diagnoses, and knowing that they’re making the world a better place. 55 percent of physicians said their individual time with patients has declined since they started practicing.
3. Working too many hours
Physicians typically work long hours, and increased demands on their time are stretching them even thinner. “Too many hours at work” was third on the list of factors contributing to burnout in the 2022 MedScape report. The poll found that more than half of physicians working over 60 hours per week reporting feeling burned out. That increases to 57 percent among doctors who work more than 70 hours per week.
4. Keeping up with growing patient demand
Patients today want more from their care providers, and physicians are expected to continually adapt to evolving patient demands in order to keep them happy and coming back.
What do patients want most? More than half say that convenience and easy access to care is the most important factor in their decision-making when choosing a new physician, according to a Healthcare Consumer Trends Report by NRC Health. That’s ahead of insurance coverage and even quality of care.
Adding to the stress is the fact that consumer demands in healthcare are propelling an influx of retail clinics and on-demand care options, increasing competition and pressure on providers.
5. Worrying about online reputation
When choosing a healthcare provider, 74 percent of people consider a positive online reputation to be very or extremely important according to a recent Tebra survey. And nearly one in five patients only consider providers with a minimum of 4.5 out of five stars. In the age of online reviews, a strong online reputation is paramount to bringing new patients through the front door.
Providers know this and, as a result, feel uneasy about their online reputations. A whopping 88 percent of providers say they worry about receiving a negative review. Their main concerns are that a negative review will give others the wrong impression of the practice, will be unfair or inaccurate, or will prevent the practice from acquiring new patients.
Solving for physician burnout
Eliminating physician burnout entirely may not be likely, but it is possible to lessen burnout by strategically addressing common causes.
Improve practice efficiency
Three of the five causes mentioned above are related to time: too much time on specific tasks, not enough time with patients, and too much time on the clock. Looking for ways to improve practice efficiency can help reduce or even eliminate tedious tasks and boost morale in the office.
You can improve your practice’s overall efficiency by:
Ask yourself: are you spending time doing things that someone else can do for you? For example, consider using a scribe or medical assistant to help with note-taking and other administrative tasks.
Software solutions such as Tebra can help with appointment scheduling, email and text reminders, and patient feedback requests so your staff has more time to tackle more valuable tasks.
Can your patients download and fill out forms from your website before their appointment? Save time by giving them the option. Better yet, send them an SMS message that lets them fill out forms on their phone. This is one of the five key interactions patients prefer to do digitally, according to the Tebra survey. You can also use your website to answer any frequently asked questions patients may have, which can reduce the number of incoming phone calls as well as time in the waiting room.
Maintain a healthy work-life balance
Improving efficiency can help reduce your workload—but to reduce physician burnout, you also need to remember to take time for yourself. If you gain back time, try not to fill it with more work. Make time to practice self-care with things like exercising, talking with family and friends, getting more sleep, listening to music, and taking time off.
Take control of your online reputation
A negative review can be stressful, but you can maintain a strong online reputation by having a strategy in place for how to respond. Sending out an automated request asking your patients to leave a review following their appointment can also help you safeguard your practice’s reputation.
“The public health emergency has again reminded us that physicians and other health care professionals on the front line face high levels of stress. While we are taking care of our patients, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. ”
A steady stream of reviews can help boost your average star rating. Consumers are paying more and more attention to the number of reviews a business has as well as how often reviews are received. In fact, 85 percent of consumers think reviews older than three months are irrelevant, according to the Local Consumer Review Survey.
Physician burnout does not have to be your reality. Following these tips can help physicians decrease the amount of time they spend on non-medical work and help them spend more time doing what they love: delivering excellent patient care.