Clinical burnout is at an all-time high, and it’s not just due to the pandemic. Burnout has been a growing issue within the healthcare system for years. Before the pandemic even hit the U.S., forty-two percent of clinicians had already reported feeling “burned out.”
With its demanding pace, stacked workdays, and emotional intensity, the health care environment can put physicians and other clinicians at high risk for burnout. Burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, a lesser sense of personal accomplishment, and depersonalization (loss of identity).
What Causes Clinical Burnout?
Aside from the long hours and stressful environment, some studies have shown that excessive administrative work can be a leading cause of stress, especially when it stretches into evenings and weekends. This creates problems with work-life balance. One study of a community hospital’s emergency department found that 44 percent of clinician time was spent entering data in the electronic medical records (EMR) system and only 28 percent on direct patient care. The other 28 percent was spent reviewing test results and records, discussions with colleagues, and other activities. Other reasons for clinical burnout include the inefficiencies often experienced in an inadequate medical environment, loss of control, and the erosion of the meaning of work after years of burnout.
Patient safety and quality of care can be at risk when burned-out physicians interact with the people who need them most. Without any intervention, physician burnout can result in doctors leaving their practices, which reduces the availability of care for patients. But some steps can be taken to help protect the mental health of the medical community to ensure proper care is provided to all patients.
Steps to Avoid Burnout
The American Medical Association states that incorporating more flexible schedules, promoting peer support and other support initiatives, and providing information on available resources are some of steps that can be taken to avoid clinical burnout. Holding online town hall discussions to share information and answer questions is another way to alleviate stress. Creating “physician-friendly” and “family-friendly” organizational settings can result in greater physician wellbeing.
Doctors will fare better in organizations where they are not under time stress with each patient, have more control over clinical issues, and are able to balance family life with their work. Reducing the administrative burdens of doctors by assigning data entry tasks to medical assistants can improve in office burnout. Other recommendations include incorporating technological advances such as artificial intelligence and telehealth options to serve as helpful solutions in the battle against burnout.
Taking care of the teams that take care of the rest of us is a vital need. Whether you are a hospital administrator, a clinician on the front lines, or a patient needing healthcare services, this topic certainly needs more attention. The Mayo Clinic said in 2016 that addressing clinician burnout was a “moral and ethical imperative” and “an important quality indicator.” Now that they’ve faced a difficult two years and an unknown pandemic, our clinicians need this help more than ever before. The time has come for the healthcare system to make more significant progress on this crucial issue.
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