A Simple Way to Ameliorate Provider Burnout

August 16, 2013

Physicians shouldn't try to shoulder all the responsibilities that come with practicing medicine. Don't go it alone. A team-based approach can help.

Anyone who has practiced medicine for any length of time knows firsthand the bone-weary mental and physical exhaustion that doesn't go away with a good night's rest. We are trained for stamina in medicine throughout our careers, but this type of exhaustion is clearly counterproductive, and not good for anyone's physical and mental well-being. It is also not good for the patient.

Medical professionals constantly face physical and emotional exhaustion. Not only can this affect how we practice medicine, it can lead to inappropriate or overamped responses to minor issues and frustrations with the bureaucracy of medicine.

Part of dealing with the things that are out of our control, in our professional environments, is recognizing the triggers that lead to burnout. There are many in modern medicine, and they are not going away any time soon. We all need to take a step back and recognize the stressors and analyze our response to them, in an attempt to find a middle ground and restore our reasons for practicing medicine. The positive things are still there and need to be enjoyed. The negatives, well, they need to be acknowledged, so that we can develop a coping strategy to minimize their negative effects on our well-being.

A team-based approach to medicine can help alleviate burnout, by relying on other professionals' expertise and knowledge. It can also do wonders for patient satisfaction; increasing the number of patients a practice can see, and ensuring that the major cases are reserved for those providers with the most experience and knowledge.

The American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) came out with a policy monograph in 2010, that showed physicians who hire physician assistants (PAs) or nurse practitioners, on average, were able to work one less week per year, while generating more billable hours in office visits and and increasing net income by nearly 18 percent.

Also, the American Osteopathic Association and AAPA support the need for physician-led, team-based care, while defining the critical roles PAs and physicians play in improving access to high-quality patient care. The paper, "Osteopathic Physicians and Physician Assistants: Excellence in Team-Based Medicine," asserts that physician-PA teams are ideally suited to provide comprehensive, patient-centered, coordinated, accessible, and ongoing care.

I really do love my job, but I'm not ashamed to admit that sometimes the day is longer than my ability to cope with the pressures of a busy surgical practice. My surgeon/business partner and I have a great relationship with an abundance of mutual respect and trust. We lean on each other to the max in order to treat patients as well as we can. I cannot imagine my physician partner seeing the same volume of patients without support from the rest of the healthcare team.

The person who said "If you love your job, you will never work a day in your life," didn't have a full understanding of how stressful the modern world has become. He didn't also understand that it is possible to love your job and still have a whole host of issues that make life difficult in the medical profession. From CMS audits to computerized physician order entry (CPOE), just about every aspect of the administrative work done by the medical staff has changed; not always for the better. The technological burden of medicine challenges the skill set of every member of the medical staff, and has created additional stress and frustration and reduced satisfaction in the practice of medicine- including increased feelings of burnout.

Personally, I know that sharing the work of caring for patients can only lead to better care for everyone.

Editor's note: If you are interested in finding out if you are indeed burned out, here is a fun survey to take: http://www.mindtools.com/stress/Brn/BurnoutSelfTest.htm.