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5 causes of physician burnout and how to address them

Physicians are generally happy in their career choice but remain at a higher risk of burnout than professionals in other fields.

physician burnout causes

For most doctors, getting their white coat was a dream come true. Almost 3 in 4 doctors had chosen their career path before the age of 20, according to the American Medical Association. Sixty-one percent say they would choose the same career if given the chance, according to the 2019 AAFP/CompHealth Physician Happiness Survey.

But physician burnout remains a concern among those in the healthcare industry. Being a physician has always been a stressful job, but rapid change in the industry, increased regulations, and growing patient demands have made it even more so.

According to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic, physicians are at a higher risk for burnout than those in other professional fields. If you own your own practice, you’re managing the stressors associated with being a physician as well as those associated with running a business.

Doctor data: 40+ statistics about today’s medical doctors

Nearly half of doctors experience physician burnout

According to the Mayo Clinic study, 44 percent of physicians reported feeling at least one symptom of burnout. This poses risks to their health and their effectiveness in care delivery: According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the three main symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of efficacy.

Not only does burnout pose risks for a provider’s health, but it’s been associated with an increase in medical errors, according to a study in the American Journal of Critical Care. When looking at burnout-related turnover, physician burnout in the United States could cost $17 billion annually, according to an analysis by the National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare.

What causes physician burnout?

There are many reasons why a physician might be experiencing burnout, but below are five of the most common causes of physician burnout.

1. Completing too many administrative tasks

Most doctors did not get into medical care to sit behind a desk. Among those with physician burnout, more than half say too many bureaucratic tasks such as charting and paperwork are to blame, according to the MedScape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019. About a third say that the “computerization of the practice” or the rise of electronic health records contribute.

So how much time are physicians spending on paperwork or related tasks? According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2019, 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.

Look: How to automate routine practice tasks

2. Not having enough time with patients

As physicians spend more time with administrative tasks, that leaves less time for patient care, which is where most physicians find the most joy in their work.

In the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2019, 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. But 55 percent of physicians say their individual time with patients has declined since they started practicing, according to the 2019 AAFP/CompHealth Physician Happiness Survey.

3. Working too many hours

Long work weeks are contributing to physician burnout. Although physicians typically work long hours, the 2019 Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report found there is a correlation among hours worked and physician burnout. More than half of physicians working more than 60 hours a week reported 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 want more from their care providers, and physicians are now posed with the challenge of adapting 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 2019 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 for providers.

5. Worrying about online reputation

When choosing a healthcare provider, almost 70 percent of people consider a positive online reputation to be very or extremely important, according to a recent PatientPop survey. 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, according to the PatientPop 2018 healthcare providers survey. Their main concerns are that a negative review will give others the wrong impression of practice, will be unfair or inaccurate, or will prevent the practice from acquiring new patients, according to the survey.

Read: 5 positive payoffs to negative patient reviews

Solving for physician burnout

Though it’s unlikely a practice can eliminate physician burnout entirely, it is possible to lessen burnout by strategically addressing common causes.

Improve practice efficiency

Three of the five causes of physician burnout 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 help boost morale in the office.

Improve efficiency by:

Delegating tasks to the appropriate people

Ask yourself: Are you spending time on tasks that someone else can do? You may consider using a scribe to help with note-taking and other administrative tasks.

Introducing automation

Software solutions such as PatientPop can help with appointment scheduling, email and text reminders, and patient feedback requests so your staff is free to tackle other tasks.

Empowering patients to fill out forms ahead of time

Can your patients download and fill out forms from your website before their appointments? You can save time by giving them the option. You can also use your website to answer any frequently asked questions patients may have, which can reduce the number of incoming phone calls.

Patient satisfaction: What really matters to patients

Maintain a healthy work-life balance

Although improving efficiency can help reduce your workload, 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. Some ways to achieve better work-life balance include exercise, talking with family and friends, 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, such as asking your patients to leave a review following their appointments.

A steady stream of reviews can help boost your average star rating. Increasingly, more and more consumers are paying attention to the number of reviews a business has as well as how often the business is receiving the reviews. In fact, 85 percent of consumers think reviews older than three months are irrelevant, according to the 2018 Local Consumer Review Survey.

Check out: Collect patient feedback for better online reputation management

Physician burnout does not have to be your reality. Following the tips presented here 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.

Want more information on how to overcome common physician challenges? Check out the blog post “5 ideas to reduce physician burnout caused by EMRs.”

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