Study: Physician burnout should be treated system-wide, not case-by-case

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Addressing physician burnout on a case-by-case basis is not as effective at reducing emotional exhaustion as system-wide interventions designed to improve workplace environment and reduce burnout, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Burnout — categorized by emotional exhaustion and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment — is a significant problem in the healthcare industry and driven by excessive workloads, prolonged stress and a lack of job control.

To determine the efficacy of burnout interventions, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 20 studies examining controlled interventions on 1,550 physicians. When rating the successfulness of interventions, researchers weighted improvements to emotional exhaustion as the most important determinate of effective burnout reduction.

Analysis revealed more physicians experienced greater reduction in emotional exhaustion when burnout was addressed at the organizational level, rather than on an individual basis. Among the 20 studies examined, only three involved system-wide intervention initiatives designed to enhance teamwork, leadership, communication, skills training and mindfulness.

"Our findings clearly show that we need more effective intervention models to prevent burnout in doctors," said Maria Panagioti, PhD, the study's lead author and a research fellow at the University of Manchester in the U.K. "Such models could be organization-directed interventions, which promote healthy individual-organization relationships and view burnout [as] a problem of the whole healthcare system."

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