The health crisis hospitals can't afford to ignore, per AMA's president

A burnout crisis has emerged among physicians that has widespread implications for clinicians and patients alike, Jack Resneck Jr., MD, American Medical Association president, wrote in an article March 9 on the organization's website. He added that changes must begin at the health system level.

Many factors are driving physician burnout, he said, including increased administrative burdens, inadequate support in practice and health systems to mitigate obstacles, disinformation campaigns, political attacks on medicine, third-party interference with the patient-physician relationship, Medicare payment cuts, inflation in practice expenses and demoralized workforces. 

"Physicians haven't lost the will to do our jobs — we are just frustrated that our healthcare system is putting too many obstacles in the way," Dr. Resneck wrote. "The answer lies not in offering us more yoga classes, coffee gift certificates or dinners with hospital leadership. While wellness has its place, to focus solely on physician resilience is to blame the victim. Curbing burnout for physicians will require actions at the system level, as well as a greater degree of collaboration among clinicians, health systems, insurers, government, medical societies, EHR vendors and other health system stakeholders."

Dr. Resneck said he has been working with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, to find solutions. Here are four ways to curb the crisis, according to the article:

  1. Expand access to support: Eliminating stigma around mental health is a worthwhile starting point, Dr. Resneck said. Feeling powerless to overcome the common frustrations and challenges in healthcare too often creates a toxic working environment.

  2. Address prior authorization: Prior authorization is an example of a growing administrative burden that must be reformed at the system level, Dr. Resneck noted. Streamlining this "archaic process" could lead to better patient outcomes and faster treatment.

  3. Build on patients' trust in an environment of misinformation: The dissemination of misinformation and disinformation made the roles of physicians more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Physicians should listen to patients' concerns and take every opportunity to explain the evidence-based science behind medical practices. This can educate patients and curb misinformation.

  4. Keep third parties out of the patient-physician relationship: "Perhaps to a greater degree than ever before, physician burnout is also being driven by the intrusion of third parties — judges, lawmakers and others — into the patient-physician relationship," Dr. Resneck wrote. "Physicians' jobs are hard enough without all of those outsiders perched on our shoulders, waiting to second-guess what happens in our exam rooms. [...] Decision-making that is informed by medical science and shaped by patient autonomy is a foundational element of effective healthcare. Lawmakers or any other outside parties who insert themselves into those decisions undermine the practice of medicine and directly threaten public health."

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