In a study recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers found that rates of physician burnout significantly decreased in 2017. Despite these positive numbers, the American Medical Association (AMA) is still calling for increased awareness and assistance when it comes to burnout symptoms.

The Good

The positive aspects of the study show there was a marked decrease in physician burnout levels. Given the overall toll burnout can take on every aspect of a healthcare provider’s life—both the personal and the professional—this reduction is a good thing. At least, on paper. The actual numbers show a roughly 10 percent decrease from 2014 to 2017. In 2014, 54 percent of physicians reported experiencing at least one symptom of burnout, whereas only 44 percent reported the same in 2017.

The criterion used was the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). It is a 22-item survey that covers 3 areas: Emotional exhaustion (EE), Depersonalization (DP), and Low sense of personal accomplishment (PA). Typically, researchers will consider respondents as exhibiting at least one symptom of burnout if they have high scores in either the EE (27 or higher) or DP (10 or higher). This survey has helped identify associations between burnout and a number of healthcare related outcomes, including:

  • Medical error
  • Malpractice
  • Suboptimal patient care practices
  • Physician turnover and early retirement
  • Lower medical knowledge
  • Personal out comes, such as alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation, and motor vehicle accidents

However, this decrease may not be entirely due to an actual lowering in rates of physician burnout.

The Bad

Researchers involved in the study had this to say: “It is possible that 2014 was a particularly challenging time because of consolidation of hospitals and medical groups, a number of new regulatory factors, increasing EHR penetration, and increased administrative burden. The situation may be improving as physicians and organizations adapt to the new practice environment. However, it is also possible that the prevalence of burnout improved due to burned out physicians leaving the workforce or reducing clinical effort.”

If that’s true, then the AMA’s call for continued efforts to combat physician burnout are more important than ever. Currently, they’ve joined forces with MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare that aims to address and change the known risks to both patient safety and physician burnout that are related to poor EHR usability.

Hopefully, with continued awareness and proactiveness, physician burnout levels will continue to drop, ensuring better work-life balance for healthcare providers and increased quality of patient care.

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RELATED: 4 Signs of Physician Burnout

Laura Slade

Written by Laura Slade