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Burnout Prevention Must be ‘Ongoing Focus’ at Medical Practices


Physician burnout rates are high and may increase if practices don’t step up their burnout prevention efforts.

As physicians face uncertainty due to healthcare reform, an influx of new patients due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and an ongoing physician shortage, it’s likely that physician burnout rates will increase.

That does not bode well for physicians, their patients, and the practices in which they work, as physician burnout rates are already extremely high.

A recent study appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine based on survey responses from more than 6,000 physicians found that 38 percent of physicians have burnout symptoms, characterized as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.

Physician burnout comes with big consequences, ranging from poor job satisfaction to poor patient care. But burnout can also take a heavy financial toll on practices - especially when burned out physicians choose to walk away from their positions.

“Beyond just advertising the job opening, associated resource costs also exist, including revenue loss from empty positions,” Tricia Pattee, director of product management at HealtheCareers Network, told Physicians Practice in an e-mail. “It’s really important that practices are always considering [burnout prevention], not just in times like these when burnout is more likely due to shortages and increases in patient care.”

She added that practices should make burnout prevention an “ongoing focus” so that they won’t be “scrambling to come up with a plan when times get tough.”

Here are some of her tips:

Become more engaged: “We are seeing many practices take an active role in the physician’s professional life in order to keep in tune with everyday professional concerns and stresses,” she said. “The goal is to catch issues before they arise so they can be handled early.”

One way to catch problems early and prevent burnout from escalating is by implementing a physician mentoring program, Pattee said. That way physicians can vent to colleagues, discuss anxieties, etc.

Holding office-wide social gatherings can also help, she said, noting that such events foster staff interaction and give physicians and staff an opportunity to “let off some steam.” She suggested potlucks, cross-department lunches, etc. “These events, which do not have to be major productions, are ones that boost employee morale and decrease chances of turnover.”

Get everyone involved: Everyone in the practice should work together to prevent physician burnout, especially as the physician shortage increases and patient demand increases, said Pattee.

“These factors place additional stress and pressure on already under-resourced physicians,” she said. “Getting everyone in the practice involved mitigates disruption to patient care, as backfilling positions will be harder to do in the current healthcare job market.”

Provide ongoing resources: Consider offering physicians and staff burnout prevention tools like health/wellness benefits, stress management classes, and an ongoing professional development program, said Pattee. This will “help staff feel more valued and appreciated, as well as give them an opportunity to grow in their professional and physical health.”

Keep in mind that while offering such resources may cost your practice money up front, it will payoff in the long run, she said.

“Investing just a little in staff morale goes a long way in many different facets of operations and ultimately helps the bottom line,” said Pattee. “By investing in burnout reduction [practices] are saving the higher costs of recruiting replacements down the road.”


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