Family doctors across the U.S. are spending more of their time on large volumes of clerical work instead of face-to-face patient interaction. This work imbalance has resulted in many family physicians experiencing low levels of job satisfaction because they feel that their years of medical training and experience are being underutilized. In a recent study by CareerBuilder, 60% of healthcare workers say that they feel burned out by their jobs. Of workers who say they always feel burned out or are often burned out, 67% plan on looking for a new job this year.
In a national survey of more than 7,000 physicians, one in two has symptoms of burnout. Research showed that physicians suffer more burnout than other workers in the U.S. Using the Maslach Burnout Inventory measurement, researchers found that 37.9% of physicians surveyed had high levels of emotional exhaustion and 12.4% had a low sense of personal accomplishment. Physicians on the front line of care such as those in family medicine, emergency medicine and general internal medicine have the highest rates of burnout among all medical professionals. The authors of the survey explain that “Policy makers and health care organizations must address the problem of physician burnout for the sake of physicians and their patients.” The origin of this problem is believed to be rooted in the work environment of physicians and the care delivery system.
While doctors and other healthcare workers find their work situations increasingly stressful and complex, large numbers are compelled to stay at their current organization for various reasons. In the same CareerBuilder survey, 57% reported their work was satisfying and rewarding; 54% stated that they enjoyed their colleagues; and 53% found their work location to be ideal. And while there are employees who remain dissatisfied with their work/life balance and lack of career advancement, a survey published in the Annals of Family Medicine revealed that 23 high-performing practices are “pockets of professional satisfaction.” These practices have devised solutions to aid in physician burnout. Research focused on how the practices distribute tasks among the team, use technology to their advantage, improve outcomes with data, and make their job both manageable and enjoyable.
“Colocation,” or putting people in the same room, helps physicians and medical assistants work side-by-side and talk through a patient’s case instead of sending emails. One physician noted “Communication throughout the day is crucial to efficiency.” Regular meetings and group huddles during the day also help improve work processes and teamwork. Other solutions to common workplace problems include:
- Proactive planned care, with pre-visit planning and pre-visit laboratory tests
- Sharing clinical care among a team, with expanded rooming protocols, standing orders and panel management
- Sharing clerical tasks with collaborative documentation (scribing), non-physician order entry and streamlined prescription management
The emphasis on a shared-care model instead of a physician-centric model of healthcare helps relieve overworked physicians from administrative duties and aid in patient demand.
Burned out physicians can contribute to patient dissatisfaction during doctor visits. It can also contribute to why medical students avoid pursuing a career in family medicine. By implementing new work processes focusing on teamwork, you can take a proactive approach to decreasing the risk of physician burnout, boosting employee morale and improving overall patient care.