Physician Work-Life Balance Challenges for 2014

January 7, 2014

What I predict will be the top 10 challenges to physicians' work-life balance in the coming year.

I came across an article in Medical Economics that addresses the top 10 challenges physicians will face in 2014. Along these lines, I thought I'd write the first blog of 2014 on what I predict will be the top 10 challenges to your work-life balance in 2014.

1. The ever changing landscape of healthcare reform. Are we supposed to be productive or prioritize quality? Is it more important to focus on the new hypertension guidelines or to focus on our Internet reputation? So many questions abound about how the multiple changes in healthcare will affect our professional life.

2. The increasing trend to provide balance for our children. We face this with our older three children - are we stomping on their future careers as tennis pros or concert pianists by failing to provide them with numerous extracurricular activities? On the other hand, is it better to give our kids more downtime to play, explore, and learn on their own?

3. Payment reform. Part of a healthy work-life balance is a healthy financial balance. As payment reform continues to result in situations such as UnitedHealthcare dropping large groups of doctors to the ongoing debate about the SGR fix, it can be challenging to plan for your financial future.

4. Technological innovation. Just as technology for your phone and computer changes at an increasingly rapid pace, so does the way technology continues to change medicine. We now grapple with questions that include how to better engage our patients electronically to meet meaningful use criteria to how to provide e-visits and compensate providers for asynchronous visits. Similarly, at home, my husband and I struggle with our eight-year old's request for a tablet for her birthday. 

5. Vanishing time. Time continues to be the most precious commodity of 2014. As we are asked to do more, try to do more, and seek more opportunities, our time diminishes.  As the pace of life continues to speed up, so do our attempts to keep up with it.

6. Our material possessions. My husband and I have become increasingly aware of how the stuff in our house robs us of time, peace, and needed space. And so 2014 is our year to get rid of things and not replace them. Similarly, I am challenged to get rid of never-read medical periodicals and my textbooks from medical school that even impoverished clinics in developing countries are not interested in.

7. The economy. We are fortunate in medicine to enjoy excellent salaries and great job security.  However, many of our patients and even our staff face an economy that continues to flounder.  The effects of this continue to be felt everywhere from the break room to the exam room as those around us struggle with meeting healthcare costs as well as the basic costs of life.

8. The political fiasco in Washington. The close link between healthcare and politics affects me in increasingly direct ways. As such, both as a healthcare consumer and a healthcare provider, the continual bickering between political parties, grandstanding, and failure to act continue to make it difficult to feel that we are moving forward in any meaningful way.

9. Information overload. I diagnosed a patient with cystic fibrosis last week (after the state lab informed me of the results of her newborn screen). The amount of new information about cystic fibrosis (not to mention the new guidelines on hypertension, obesity, and cholesterol) is overwhelming and difficult to process. I continue to struggle with how to manage the new information that floods my mailbox, inbox, and exam rooms on a daily basis.

10. Myself (yourself). Despite all of the external pressures - and there are many - the greatest battle for work-life balance continues to be internal. Those endless choices we make to check work e-mail on vacation, check Facebook instead of checking in with our spouse, and to put out basic needs for sleep, nutrition, rest, and movement on the back burner all threaten our balance much more than what's happening in Washington or with your health plan.

So fellow seekers of balance, good luck with 2014. May it be fully balanced!