Physician burnout has become one of the most serious problems in health care today. From job dissatisfaction to depression, from reduced quality patient care to medical errors, burnout can have dire, even deadly consequences. The issue and its causes and effects have been well covered by the media.
Physicians searching for practical solutions are increasingly turning to their professional associations for help, and they’re finding it. Here are a few physicians associations providing their members with a variety of tools for fighting burnout.
Physicians Helping Each Other
Burnout is largely driven by factors that are beyond the control of individual physician, according to the National Academy of Medicine. Experts agree that as much as 80 percent of burnout is due to systemic rather than individual problems. These are factors such as excessive paperwork and regulatory requirements and poorly designed EHR systems.
In order to address burnout by attacking these root causes, the American College of Physicians launched a program called Patients Before Paperwork in 2015. The program’s goals are to improve physician wellness by identifying the administrative tasks that eat up so much physician time and determine and implement methods to reduce those tasks. “We’re working with policy makers, such as [CMS] and EHR vendors, to make sure regulations meet their intentions,” says Susan Hingle, MD, ACP Board of Regents Chair and Chair of the ACP’s Wellness Task Force.
However, the ACP’s approach is not all directed at policy makers. “A lot happens at the national level but there is also a lot you can do locally,” Hingle says. In that vein, the ACP has been training a cadre of ACP members called Wellness Champions. These are volunteers, Hingle says “who are trained nationally and work locally.”
An ACP physician who needs help can request a consultation with a Wellness Champion, who will then come to the individual’s practice, do an evaluation, and make suggestions for improvement. These suggestions might be for changes to the organizational structure of the practice, ideas about how to streamline workflow, or something more personal—such as how to best recharge during time off. This colleague-to-colleague approach is aimed at not only addressing the problems doctors face in their day-to-day practices, but giving physicians a chance to support each other on a personal level.
“One of the elements of dissatisfaction that we hear from our members,” says Hingle, “is that the regulations are put in place by people who don’t understand what it’s like on the ground in practice. Champions do.”
The ACP is still working out how best to measure the success of these initiatives. They offer a burnout screening tool on their website and their annual survey of the ACP’s 152,000 members includes questions about these programs. A subcommittee of the ACP’s Wellness Task Force is looking at additional ways to measure success. Meanwhile, they are doing research and collecting member input for how to address this problem in a way that will be most helpful for physicians. “It’s a big area. We’re trying to figure out how to offer something a little different,” says Hingle.