How Physician Burnout Is Harming Your Facility

Posted on: April 14, 2016

written by

Chris Markle

Anyone who has worked long hours understands the feeling of burnout: When you get home, all you want to do is relax, get some sleep, and wake up refreshed tomorrow.

But what happens when the consequences are more than just a sleepy morning meeting or a missed deadline? When the doctors at your facility are responsible for patients’ well-being, their burnout could mean the difference between quality care and poor health, or in extreme cases, life and death.

Alarming research shows just how common doctor- and physician-related burnout is in the healthcare industry. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, a three-year study conducted by the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association reported that by 2014, more than half of physicians considered themselves “burned out.”

These doctors are likely feeling emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, dissatisfaction, and depression. This kind of burnout is prevalent across the healthcare sector, and it adversely affects patient care and medical organizations.

Causes of Burnout

The 2015 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report notes some of the biggest reasons for physician burnout, shown in averages on a scale of 1 (not at all important) to 7 (extremely important):

  • Too many bureaucratic tasks: 4.74.
  • Spending too many hours at work: 3.99.
  • Income not high enough: 3.71.
  • Increasing computerization of practice: 3.69.
  • Feeling like just a cog in the wheel: 3.59.

The average is about 4, which is right in the middle. This makes it clear that burnout is not caused by any single, standalone aspect. Rather, burnout results when a combination of the above factors crosses the line from slightly negative to obsessively and overwhelming negative. Once this point is reached, what happens?

Some Effects of Burnout

The physical and psychological effects of burnout are well documented — specifically, it creates a potentially unsafe environment for patients, along with stressful working conditions that could affect medical staff’s professionalism and overall happiness.

According to the New York Times, doctors who suffer from burnout are much more likely to quit, a serious consequence for healthcare organizations facing short- and long-term staffing shortages. Even if they don’t quit, burned-out doctors generally make more errors, are less sympathetic, and may objectify their patients.

Negative consequences stemming from these attitudes, such as decreased patient satisfaction and poor quality of care, mean facilities must spend more money and dedicate more resources to make up the difference. In this way, burnout can lead to unexpected and significant financial or corporate penalties that have an effect on the bottom line.

How to Solve the Burnout Problem

There is no easy solution for burnout, but the first step is recognizing the early symptoms before they get out of hand. This responsibility doesn’t just fall on human resources — it’s up to managers, colleagues, and even friends and family to notice unusual behavior and take the appropriate action. If your doctor works all night and puts in an extra shift, give him the next day off. If a normally chipper colleague seems subdued, ask her what’s going on. If patients don’t seem happy, take a hard look at your staff and search for signs of burnout.

Hiring locum tenens providers is an excellent stopgap solution. These professionals take the place of regular, tenured staff members who are absent or otherwise occupied (in this case, recovering from burnout). Locum tenens are highly skilled employees adept at integrating seamlessly into a new environment, and they are held to the same stringent rules and regulations as their peers. They can fill in for a day, a week, or however long it takes for an individual or department to recover from burnout.

The bottom line is, healthcare professionals are people too (even if they sometimes seem superhuman), and they experience workplace ups and downs just like the rest of us. That can be easy to forget, no matter how closely you work with them.

Have any of your physicians taken time off because of burnout? How did you handle the situation? Comment below, or tweet us @bartonlocums.

About Chris Markle

Chris Markle straddles the worlds of public relations, brand collateral, and content development. After graduating from Northeastern University, he cut his teeth in the healthcare industry, where he continues to strive to understand the patient-physician relationship and improve quality of care.

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