COVID-19 worsened oncologist burnout, report finds

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Oncologists experienced significant occupational and personal consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a qualitative interview-based study recently published in JCO Oncology Practice

A total of 25 oncologists were invited to participate in the study, published June 21. Members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology interviewed the participants in four separate focus groups with questions related to how the pandemic has affected their well-being and patient care. 

Researchers identified the following five thematic consequences after analyzing the interviews: 

  1. The prevalence of pre-COVID-19 burnout
  2. The pandemic increased occupational burdens.
  3. The pandemic personally impacted oncologists, both positively and negatively. 
  4. Delays in care amid the pandemic have oncologists worried about the future of cancer care and the workforce.
  5. Oncologists felt both cancer organizations and professional oncology societies have a role in improving physician well-being. 

"Underlying oncologist burnout exacerbated stressors associated with disruptions in cancer care, education, research, financial practice health, and telemedicine," researchers said. "Oncologists noted personal and familial stressors related to COVID-19 exposure fears and loss of social support." Many also considered early retirement or working part-time amid COVID-19, according to the analysis. 

In "Finding Our Way Out of Burnout," an accompanying editorial published in the same journal, authors Ronald Epstein, MD, and Michael Privitera, MD, of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, suggested strategies to address some of the root causes of burnout. 

"First, regulatory agencies need to abide by the dictum of first, do no harm," the physicians wrote, criticizing the fact that many states require clinicians to answer questions about their mental health to be licensed. This acts as a barrier to physicians seeking help, the authors said. 

More manageable workloads and relaxed administrative documentation are among the other measures Drs. Epstein and Privitera highlighted. 

"The work that oncology clinicians do is too important to have their time wasted on meaningless tasks, manifest as a torrent of mandatory training modules, administrative work, note bloat, documentation whose sole purpose is to increase billing revenues and dysfunctional computer systems," they said. "Addressing these should be considered even more urgent now than ever."

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