Unwell physicians and burnout put patients at risk

Apr 19, 2019

The quality of patient care depends on high-functioning providers. The increasing trend and data confirming the negative impact of physicians’ ill health on patient care means that the healthcare industry must search for answers - now.

Being a healthcare professional can be gratifying, but it also comes with challenges and stresses that can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Late nights, long hours, heavy workloads, high expectations, and complex environments are just some of the many factors that can put any medical professional at risk of depression and burnout.

Not surprisingly, many healthcare professionals are facing physical and mental health issues. More than 400 healthcare professionals commit suicide every year, a rate more than dobule that of the general population. Burned out physicians are twice as likely to make medical errors, the third leading cause of death in the United States. Physician burnout is costing the U.S. healthcare industry $17 billion in annual turnover costs.

For physicians, stress is inevitable. This is because they understand their decisions have high stakes, and there is no room for mistakes.

With expectations set so high, it is not surprising that a majority of physicians struggle with mental and physical illness. In fact, according to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), almost one-third of doctors going through residency training were depressed or exhibited symptoms of depression.

But what exactly is physician wellness?

Does wellness mean the absence of any disease? Do you think if someone is well, he or she has no illness? If you answered yes, your perception is part of the larger problem.

Evaluations like these are usually based on perception, but mental illness can present in anyone, despite outward appearances. Don’t let the noble profession, physical appearance or upper-class lifestyle fool you. Many in the healthcare industry are used to dealing with the daily stresses and know how to appear cool, calm, and collected while potentially flailing beneath the surface.

Physician wellness refers to when physicians are reflecting on or self-evaluating their own well-being. Physician wellness is more than just the absence of illness. It is about maximizing their quality of life. It is about improving the quality of their relationships with their patients, family, and friends.

Physician wellness also includes all of the factors that affect physicians' psychological and social health, and minimizes the spread of chronic diseases. These diseases may include mental illness, physical disabilities or injuries resulting from work hazards, and occupational stress or burnout.

Focusing on wellness not only benefits the individual provider, but is also vital for the delivery of high-quality healthcare. Healthy and well-balanced physicians can make better caregivers. They are more likely to be more empathetic and set healthy lifestyle examples for patients and less likely to make mistakes.

Do physicians avoid being patients?

The medical profession tends to attract responsible individuals with a strong sense of duty. Physicians are often subject to high expectations from patients and set high standards or perfection for  themselves. These expectations contribute to prioritizing the care of others over self and give rise to feelings of guilt for when they prioritize their own well-being.

Another reason physicians delay seeking medical help is because many of them feel uncomfortable when roles are reversed and they become the patient. There is an unhealthy culture in medicine that shames doctors who complain of illness. Such doctors are perceived as being inadequate, less capable, or less trustworthy of practicing medicine.

In recent years, much attention has focused on improving physician wellness. Extensive surveys and expensive research all stated the obvious: There is an immediate need to educate physicians on ways to improve their health and well-being.

What physicians should do?

It is important to encourage all physicians to see their healthcare practitioners regularly. All physicians should have a general practitioner who can assist them in monitoring their overall health, including mental and physical well-being. It is also important to educate physicians on how to watch for and avoid stressors and to seek professional help if they experience any unmanageable stress. Physicians should refrain from self-diagnosing and self-prescribing to ensure they are being properly treated as well as to avoid the legal risks.

Caring for other physicians requires sensitivity and empathy. We must encourage doctors to take time off for themselves, prioritize self-care, encourage others to do the same, and provide emotional support to colleagues in need.

A balanced approach is necessary

Clearly, the growing risk to physicians’ well-being threatens the quality of care they deliver as well as  the effectiveness of the healthcare system as a whole. Given the challenges faced by medical professionals, everyone must accept the shared responsibility of improving professional and external factors that affect physicians’ health. A balanced approach is crucial to building a stable platform that will drive improvements in physician well-being.

Physicians owe it to themselves, to their patients, and to the next generation of doctors to collectively work on improving the healthcare system, one another, and most importantly themselves.

Alex Mangrolia has been in digital marketing for more than 15 years to drive new profitable growth as well as techniques to boost website traffic and leads. He works as Director of Marketing and Product Development for Practice Builders, a healthcare marketing and consulting firm for healthcare practices, hospitals and clinics. Learn more about Alex's capabilities at PracticeBuilders.com.

 

x