November 22, 2019

Burnout Affects More Than Just the Physician

With nearly 400 physician suicides annually in the US, physician burnout is a well-documented issue that’s now deemed a public health crisis. In a 2019 Medscape survey, almost half the 15,000 physicians surveyed reported feeling burned out, and while the concern for doctor well-being is paramount, burnout also sounds an alarm for patients.

A recent study titled “Provider burnout and patient-provider communication in the context of hypertension care” published in the Patient Education and Counseling Journal found an association between burnout and relationship-building communication. When a relationship is not developed between physicians and patients, the care delivered to those patients can become fragmented and suboptimal.

While this study focused on hypertension care, it’s easy to associate the issue broadly. If a physician is emotionally disengaged, it becomes harder for a patient to connect and build trust. This lack of bond can hinder patient communications, leading to hasty or faulty medical decisions. Clinicians experiencing burnout may not be “present” enough to pick-up on subtle, nuanced information, such as cues in the patient’s words that are less identifiable on the surface, yet indicate a more serious condition.

While EMRs should be the last thing negatively influencing patient care, studies have shown that Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) contribute to physician burnout. While EMRs aren’t perfect, often having idiosyncrasies and annoyances, they do have built-in mechanisms to make documenting easier and faster, without having to resort to note-bloating and copying or pasting previous notes. Clinicians should take full advantage of these built-in efficiencies, including voice-recognition software and dictation. For example, it might be helpful to complete billing for the patient encounter so that when the note is complete, the bill is also finished. With this workflow, physicians aren’t forced to stay after their shift to complete their billing and have more opportunity for personal downtime. As well, there are practical tips that can also help.

Clinicians experiencing burnout should reach out for help. Regarding EMRs, clinicians should take a bit of time to learn related efficiencies so that they can gain a better balance, enjoy time away, and come back to work refreshed and ready to heal. Our patients depend on it.

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