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    Watercooler wisdom 2: Preventing (and treating) physician burnout

    Dr Schuman offers a plan to recognize the symptomology and overcome its effects.


    Causes and consequences

    According to a recent Medscape survey,6 several factors contribute to physician burnout. These include:

    ·      Having too many bureaucratic tasks;

    ·      Spending too many hours at work;

    ·      Insufficient income;

    ·      Inefficient use of electronic health records (EHRs);

    ·      Mandates of the Affordable Care Act (ACA);

    ·      Having too many difficult patients;

    ·      Having too many appointments in a day; and

    ·      Having a difficult employer.

    More: Disruptive technology and pediatric practice

    Burnout may have dire consequences both for physicians as individuals as well as for the patients in their care. Higher substance addiction rates, divorces, and suicides are reported among individuals who feel they have experienced burnout. From a professional perspective, burned-out physicians are less likely to motivate patients to comply with recommendations and are more likely to make medical errors. Burned-out physicians are most at risk for malpractice, and often have lower patient satisfaction scores.


    Given the anticipated physician shortage over the next decade, it is in the best interest of the American healthcare system to improve the working conditions of physicians. Many institutions are considering physician burnout rates as a “quality metric” and implementing programs to quantify and reduce provider burnout rates. The American Medical Association (AMA) Steps Forward program, developed in conjunction with the Medical Group Management Association, has an excellent educational model to facilitate assessment of physician burnout rates and provide solutions. You can view this module at www.stepsforward.org/modules/physician-burnout and consider implementing your own program with the tools provided. Some of the AMA’s suggestions for reducing burnout can be found in “Tactics to reduce burnout.”

    I recommend that it would be prudent to determine if you suffer from professional burnout, or are at risk for developing burnout. You can take a version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory online at www.mindgarden.com/117-maslach-burnout-inventory for just $15. The results measure your feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment, and compare your scores to 11,000 individuals drawn from the general population. If your emotional exhaustion and depersonalization scores fall in the top 10%, or feeling of personal accomplishment in the bottom 10%, you are burned out. I have taken the test and, fortunately, I’m pleased that I am not burned out yet (just crispy, but nowhere near “toast”).

    NEXT: How to reduce stress

    Andrew J Schuman, MD, FAAP
    Dr Schuman, section editor for Peds v2.0, is clinical assistant professor of Pediatrics, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, ...


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