By this point, burnout and efforts to prevent it are as common in the healthcare industry as stethoscopes and syringes. Unlike stethoscopes, however, burnout has the potential to cause problems not just for the provider affected, but for the whole organization and patient roster.
Burnout symptoms such as poor decision-making, poor job performance, and a lack of empathy for patients make the number of providers suffering from burnout truly concerning: In 2015, 46 percent of physicians were thought to have suffered from burnout, and some studies claim nearly half of all providers experience symptoms.
Something needs to be done. If you’re concerned about burnout in your facility, be on the lookout for these symptoms:
1. Frequent Errors
Surgeons are more likely to make serious mistakes when displaying burnout symptoms, and long hours are linked to burnout in nurses, which is believed to be a factor in medication errors and other costly mistakes. These and other provider errors are thought to cost the healthcare system between $17 billion and $29 billion each year.
The bottom line for organization administrators? If an employee is uncharacteristically and continuously making mistakes, they could be suffering from professional burnout symptoms.
Depending on the gravity and circumstances surrounding the error, formal discipline may not be the fairest or most appropriate way to address the situation. Before jumping to any conclusion, ask the employee if they think they are suffering from burnout and what factors are contributing to it; maybe a solution that works for both you and your provider can be found.
That solution can come in many forms, but the main objective is always the same: achieving a healthier work-life balance. In an industry with notoriously volatile turnover rates and rigorous requirements, staffing strategies such as locum tenens can help prevent and remedy provider burnout symptoms while improving patient and employee experiences alike. Locum tenens providers can be used to cover any temporary staffing, expected or unexpected, your facility may have: Bringing in a locum tenens professional during vacation season instead of asking full-timers to work more in order to cover missing employees’ shifts, for instance, can ensure remaining staff aren’t pushed to the brink of burnout.
2. Decreased Empathy
The link between empathy fatigue and burnout is complex, but the two are undoubtedly related: Regardless of whether burnout “kills” empathy or excessive empathy causes burnout, a distinct lack of caring is a clear sign of burnout among healthcare providers.
Unfortunately, there are no surefire solutions to this burnout symptom; it’s dependent on the situation and provider. Physicians and advanced-practice clinicians claim a hard stance on taking time off is one way to approach the problem. Jetting off on a much-needed vacation could be the perfect way to solve both provider and empathy fatigue.
Organizations may also wish to undertake initiatives that “rehumanize” patients, encouraging staff to think of them as real people with real problems instead of just another name to check off a busy appointment list. Telemedicine services combined with locum tenens can help providers suffering from burnout and empathy fatigue by easing their workloads without limiting patients’ access to care.
3. Workplace Toxicity
Like many of the symptoms listed here, a toxic healthcare workplace can be both a cause and an outcome of burnout. Bureaucratic burdens, unrealistic administrators, and conflicting personalities can lead to frustration, anger, and the resulting burnout symptoms. This in turn can exacerbate the issues that caused the bitter feelings and burnout in the first place, creating an endless cycle.
The good news? Addressing one cause of workplace toxicity may help stop and prevent this destructive cycle from beginning in the first place. Openly and frequently congratulating employees on their accomplishments, actively addressing frequently reported problems and interpersonal issues, and making efforts to prevent overworking providers can help you manage workplace burnout and toxicity.
4. Reduced Patient Satisfaction
As the healthcare industry continues along the path of consumerization, patient satisfaction has become a growing area of focus for many facilities. In one study, organizations with high levels of job satisfaction among nurses reported vastly higher patient satisfaction and a lower incidence of burnout.
Obviously, increasing patient satisfaction levels does not cure provider burnout symptoms. Instead, organizations should focus on the opposite: Addressing the symptoms and causes of burnout will help improve provider job satisfaction, and therefore, patient satisfaction. It’s a serious undertaking, but one that will have a positive effect on not just providers, but patients as well.