Physician Burnout: Common Causes and Effects

Physician burnout has escalated to critically high levels in the US. According to a recent report from Medscape, Critical Care, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, and Internal Medicine physicians have burnout rates at nearly 55%. Additional research indicates physicians are almost twice as likely as the general public to be unhappy with their work-life balance. 

physician burnoutHowever, physician burnout is not a new phenomenon; it has been a cause of concern for decades. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has expressed their concern about the high rates of burnout among primary care physicians, contributing to the primary care workforce shortage. Even the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MD, MBA has spoken out about the issue, implying that the increased burnout rate among physicians is pushing skilled workers out of the medical field. 

What is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. It is a condition caused by fatigue, loss of interest, or frustration that interferes with job performance. Typically considered the result of prolonged stress.

What are Some Common Causes of Physician Burnout?

Although there has been significant research on the subject of physician burnout, there is a lack of definitive data on the exact causes. Some studies suggest common causes include: the impact of the ACA, increased administration, reimbursement, challenging patients, keeping patients satisfied, frequent call, long hours, and a lack of work-life balance.

The Effects of Physician Burnout

Research indicates the symptoms of physician burnout to be connected with increased rates of medical errors, malpractice, riskier prescribing patterns, and lower patient adherence.  It affects physician well-being, organizational healthcare operations, and even patient safety. If left unaddressed physician burnout can have severe consequences for physicians both personally and professionally.

Physician burnout is a serious problem that needs to be approached both openly and proactively. It is a system-wide problem and not just an individual one. Physicians are a valuable resource, and their well-being must be made a priority. While there may not be one definitive solution for all, recognizing the issue is key. It starts with listening and understanding physician needs and priorities while providing support and addressing concerns to make the necessary improvements within a practice, organization, and healthcare system.

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