Why physician burnout jumped to 54% over 3 years

Kelly Gooch - Print  | 

Physician burnout increased from 45.5 percent to 54.4 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to an article in the American Journal of Medicine.

The article's authors, physician researchers at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine, said they found this is not because physicians are depressed or less content at home, but rather they are not as happy at work.

Andrew Alexander, MD, and Kenneth Ballou, MD, listed three symptoms of physician burnout: "a feeling of a lack of accomplishment; feelings of cynicism; and a loss of zeal, zest, and enthusiasm for work."

In discussing the first symptom, they said the physician-patient relationship, which has provided happiness to physicians over the years, is now threatened by an insurer–employer–provider relationship.

"Few recent residency graduates can afford food, rent and the interest payments on a quarter million dollars of medical school loans while they wait for the contractual right to start a new practice. It is understandable that new physicians would feel an immediate 'lack of accomplishment' were they to attempt to enter private practice as did their predecessors," the authors wrote.

Cynicism is also a symptom cited by the authors. They said this symptom "is more difficult to avoid," as patients routinely change physicians, employers change insurers, and insurers change physician panels annually during insurer-employer renegotiations.

Regarding lack of enthusiasm, the authors wrote: "Doctors love their profession, even as they lament what has happened to it. What events could extinguish the enthusiasm of helping others through scientific problem-solving? Something has changed, and it has worsened over the past few years."

The authors identified the three symptoms after examining 2011-2014 data on physician burnout and work-life balance. They also identified at least five major transformational medical practice events that contributed to the increase in physician burnout over the three years: pervasive hospital acquisitions of medical groups, climbing drug prices, the ACA, pay for performance and mandated EHRs.

Access the full article here.

 

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