Written by: Brenda Harding, FACMPE, and Kyle Matthews, CMPE
Although it may not be obvious, physician burnout is one of the biggest problems plaguing medical practices today. Though we often think they have all the answers, physicians face many of the same battles as traditional office workers. These battles include a heavy workload, high stress, and demanding metric goals. We also cannot forget the responsibility for the patient’s health and the constant worry regarding liability. There is a fine line between being available for patients and over-scheduling. If a physician’s schedule has too many breaks, then patients might have to wait longer for appointments or feel their physician is not available. However, when a physician’s schedule is too full, physicians might feel additional pressure to rush their patients, they might not devote as much time to listening to what the patient is saying or having the time to uncover root causes for their problems. Physicians might begin to feel like their job is monotonous and lose touch with the reason they started in medicine.
The dangers that arise from physician burnout include:
- Increased health risks to the physicians
- Higher suicide rates
- More opportunities for missed diagnoses
- Errors in patient care, leading to increased practice liability
While many of these facts have been well-established, many do not agree on the role medical executives play in pr
eventing or reducing burn-out. Scientific American survey rates key factors when determining job satisfaction, four of which administrators and physicians can address to lessen the possibility of burnout in today’s modern medical practice.
An easy place to start when trying to determine the risk of physician burnout is to regularly check in with physicians to ensure they feel like they have enough time for their patients and themselves. While the answer may always be “no” initially, a real conversation can ensure there is enough coverage for each provider to have their own time off. This includes making sure patients are blocked for the appropriate amount of time, physicians have enough time for paperwork and follow-up, and that they have adequate time for research to stay on top of the latest medical developments.
Physicians also need to take time off to pursue outside interests, such as volunteer work, outreach programs, and personal hobbies. Scheduling employer-sponsored activities for the entire office staff, like 5k races or appreciation events, can also be a much-needed break and allow physicians to focus on personal health and connections. For larger practices and organizations, they can also try to create special interest groups to help connect employees. Having a way to connect with and understand coworkers has the dual benefit of relieving stress and reducing the chance for interoffice conflict caused by misunderstandings.
While it may not always be possible to allow physicians to have a stronger say in practice management, it is still beneficial to listen to them to allow them to air any grievances or find areas of improvements. Scheduling regular one on ones between administrators and physicians can help the physicians to feel more included. The schedule they keep, the atmosphere of the office overall and discussion around staff goals can all provide physicians an opportunity to shape the environment in which they work. When it is not possible to offer providers a say in the management of the practice, transparency in decision making is vital. This way, if they did not make a choice, at least they are given the chance to understand the thought process that went into why certain choices were made.
Another way to increase involvement is relevant to committee assignments. While no one wants more meetings, having practice areas on which physicians are responsible increases confidence in management and lessens the stress of not knowing what is happening in the background.
Self-care is the easiest and often the most overlooked method of avoiding physician burnout. As a profession, physicians are more inclined to help others and to resist help themselves. However, when there is appropriate work/life balance, physicians, and by extension patients and office staff, are much happier. Try to work with physicians on uncovering groups and activities that matter to them, and then work with them to make sure those interests are incorporated into the schedule or role, when applicable.
Overall, physicians and administrators both have the responsibility to have open and candid conversations to identify physician burnout. Listening to each other, communicating opinions and concerns and maintaining a proper work/life balance are the best tools for keeping both physicians and patients happy and healthy. Administrators should have a plan in place to combat any burnout concerns, and pro-actively engage with physicians and staff.