Forty-four percent of doctors say they’re burned out, a slight increase from last year, according to Medscape’s 2019 report on doctor burnout and depression, which was published last week and comprises the responses of more than 15,000 physicians across more than 29 specialties.
Physician burnout is a public health crisis that is threatening the health and well-being of U.S. patients, according to a paper from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, which was also released last week.
‘Poorly designed digital health records’
“The growth in poorly designed digital health records and quality metrics has required that physicians spend more and more time on tasks that don’t directly benefit patients, contributing to a growing epidemic of physician burnout,” said Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, an author of the paper, in a statement. “There is simply no way to achieve the goal of improving health care while those on the front lines–our physicians–are experiencing an epidemic of burnout due to the conflicting demands of their work.”
5 things to know from the reports:
1. Solutions need to be systemic. Measures designed to increase individual physician wellness, such as yoga classes and mindfulness, will not solve the root cause of doctor burnout, notes the Harvard/Massachusetts report, which says change needs to occur across health systems. Here are the report’s top three recommendations for alleviating physician burnout:
- Institutions should facilitate mental health treatment for physicians without stigma or unneeded constraints on doctors’ ability to practice.
- Every health system should appoint a chief wellness officer to explore and implement technological and staffing interventions to reduce the administrative burden doctors face. Interventions include scribes, EHR customization and workflow improvements.
- EHR standards need to be improved, with a strong focus on usability and open APIs.
2. That being said, some physicians have taken matters into their own hands. Work-related steps many physicians have taken to alleviate burnout include reducing their work hours (31 percent), changing their work settings (24 percent), making workflow/staff changes to reduce their own workload (21 percent), and speaking up to institution leadership about productivity pressure (18 percent), according to the Medscape report.
3. Few physicians are seeking professional help for burnout. Just 13 percent of physicians are seeing a professional to deal with burnout or depression, according to Medscape, which also found that another 13 percent have sought professional help in the past, and over 60 percent have never gotten professional help and don’t intend to.
Licensure requirements can discourage physicians from seeking help; however, the Federation of State Medical Boards recently called for state licensing boards to reconsider probing questions about doctors’ mental health on applications, the Harvard/Massachusetts report noted.
Doctors in Florida are currently trying to remove extensive mental health history questions on the state board of medicine’s doctor license application.
4. The extent of doctor burnout varies by specialty. Urologists (54 percent), neurologists (53 percent) and physical med & rehab specialists (52 percent) are the most burned out, while preventive medicine specialists (28 percent), nephrologists (32 percent) and pathologists (33 percent) are the least burned out, according to Medscape’s report.
5. More female physicians report burnout than male physicians. Half of all women physicians report experiencing burnout, while less than 40 percent of male physicians do, the Medscape report found. A psychiatrist quoted in the report noted that women are more likely to admit to and seek help for psychological problems, which means they may be more likely to admit to being burned out.