How to Reduce Physician Burnout

Physician burnout is a serious issue for hospitals and healthcare systems. Replacing proficient and experienced physicians is costly, time-consuming, and an institutional risk. It is reported that the average cost to replace one physician is $250,000.  That means that larger departures can have a negative effect on the organizations that are affected by them.  It makes sense to address the issue beforehand to prevent or reduce physician burnout by retaining the talent you have already acquired and by hiring fresh talent that can relieve physicians of the causes of burnout. 

How departmental leaders can collaborate to reduce physician burnout
A guide on how to reduce physician burnout

What Causes Physician Burnout?

Athena Health recently surveyed over 1,000 practicing physicians. The takeaway was that burnout is caused by less than stellar administration and systemic issues that are ignored by leadership.  This, in turn, resulted in the physicians being less engaged in their roles and being less willing to do things outside of their scope of work.

The above phenomenon also translates to newer physician talent. They end up working more and less desirable hours than physicians who are well established and have a longer work history. This affects their lifestyles, health, and job satisfaction.

Oftentimes, physicians will bring up these burnout concerns to management and departmental leaders who sympathize but are unresponsive. Why is this so? The NEJM Catalyst Insights Council Survey found that while ⅔ of leaders recognize that physician burnout is a valid issue in healthcare, only ⅓ find it is as serious within their own organization.

What is Physician Burnout

Physician burnout is made up of three main symptoms: emotional exhaustion, a feeling of depersonalization or cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment in one’s work.

Plainly stated, when you are emotionally, intellectually, or physically weak and tired, you will not be at peak performance. When physicians are overwhelmed and overworked, they tend to develop bitterness, frustration, and anger, resulting in both physical and psychological withdrawal from their practice, making it harder for them to connect with patients and perform tasks.

How Serious is Physician Burnout

2018 physician burnout numbers
Departments most affected by physician burnout

According to a Mayo Clinic study, 54% of physicians report one if not more of the three symptoms of burnout.  The rates of burnout vary by department and specialty. According to the American Medical Association, the top five specialties for physician burnout are emergency medicine, Ob/Gyn, family medicine, internal medicine, and infectious disease. However, the fastest growing are rheumatology, pediatrics, and general surgery. If your organization focuses on these areas, it is imperative that you begin to strategize to reduce physician burnout.   

How Physician Burnout Affects Patients

Physician burnout has a negative effect on patient safety and satisfaction. A recent study finds that physician burnout is associated with both low-quality, unsafe patient care and a decrease in patient satisfaction. In fact, physician burnout results in two times the chances of unsafe care, unprofessional behaviors, and low patient satisfaction. The depersonalization aspect of physician burnout had the strongest effect on these factors.

The Major Cause of Physician Burnout

Aetna Health found that tedious and unnecessary administrative and non-clinical work is the major cause of burnout. When physicians are taken away from their core tasks to put in time with administrative and clerical matters, burnout happens.

How to Reduce Physician Burnout

Since administrative work is the most significant factor leading to physician burnout, the most effective way to diminish the effects of physician burnout is to work on systemic issues, company culture, training, and support systems. How can this be achieved? Placing the right administrators in departments can make a world of difference. When a department works properly, physician burnout can be significantly reduced.

Once that administrator has been placed, he or she needs to review structures such as goals, schedules, and role assignments to make sure they are fair and achievable with the current tools that are provided.

Then, the administrator needs to reach out to other departmental leaders. For example, by collaborating with information technology leaders, they may come up with a better implementation or optimization of electronic medical records which in turn will reduce the clerical load to non-physician team members.

Strong nurse leaders can also affect change quickly and effectively by stepping up to collaborate with physicians to reduce burnout. By transferring tasks from physicians to nurse managers such as becoming the main point of contact for patient communications for coordinating visits, you can significantly reduce the workload of your physicians while personalizing the care that is being provided.

Hiring Leaders to Alleviate Physician Burnout

If you are currently experiencing higher than average physician burnout and are looking to place c-suite and interim talent to alleviate your healthcare organization’s physician burnout, contact us. Summit Talent Group is a healthcare executive search firm that specializes in placing both permanent and interim talent. Because of our team’s experience in the healthcare continuum, we understand the importance of reducing burnout and the types of leaders who can achieve this goal. If you would like to speak with our leadership team about our proven 6-step recruitment process and how we can help you reduce physician burnout, contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.