Burnout is defined as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” While this can apply to anyone in any field, in terms of medical providers, physicians experience some of the highest levels of “burnout” than any other field.
Physician burnout leaves not only your physicians at the end of their wick, but also leaves your practice at risk. It is important that practice executives know how to define, identify, address and reduce physician burnout before it negatively impacts their practice.
Definition of Physician Burnout:
The Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality defines physician burnout as a “long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment.”
Many are surprised that physicians are not always the most accomplished-feeling professionals in the workforce. The truth is, thousands of physicians in the US face physician burnout every year.
How to Identify it:
1) Physical Indicators
The physical exhibitors of burnout can look different for everyone. Some of the most common physical indicators include the feeling of being tired most of the day despite getting enough rest each night, increase in being physically ill, increase in body pain/headaches, irregular sleep, or a change in the way you eat each day. While these can be symptoms of other medical conditions, if you are noticing a pattern among your physicians, then you might need to look at making changes at your practice to help their physical response to physician burnout.
2) Emotional Indicators
While you, as a practice executive, might not know that your physicians are feeling any of these emotional indicators of burnout, they are important to understand should your team express them to you. Feelings of inadequacy and the feeling of being unaccomplished despite their role are top emotional signs. Noticeable indicators include a decrease in productivity, motivation, and positivity in their day to day workflow.
3) Change in Demeanor
If your physicians were once taking on every task with great drive and responsibility and they are now pulling away, engaging less, accomplishing less in their day, or detaching themselves, these are noticeable changes in demeanor that your practice should address.
How to Reduce Physician Burnout:
If you think your physicians may be exhibiting any of the signs of physician burnout, you should start by addressing the following areas:
1) Protect Free Time
Physicians and other medical staff are known for their long hours with shifts sometimes lasting days at a time depending on where they work. One of the most important things you can do to address and reduce physician burnout is to protect their free time at all costs. This means offering more reasonable working hours that are protected week to week. Your physicians have lives outside of the practice and they need to maintain those lives in a healthy way in order to avoid physician burnout.
2) Open up Communication
Maintaining healthy communication does accomplish a lot in terms of the reduction of physician burnout. First, creating a communicative environment empowers physicians to bring up any areas they may be struggling within their career. It also creates a better environment for your entire staff to work well together.
3) Address/Reduce Mental Health Stigma
In 2019, gigantic strides have been made to destigmatize mental health and improving how we view it as a society. For physicians who have been in the field for more than a decade, they may still struggle with opening up about their conflicts. By destigmatizing mental health at your practice, your physicians are more likely to address those feelings of being unaccomplished, disassociated, and inadequate. By encouraging your physicians to be open and honest about their struggles, you help them feel less alone and you improve your ability to address those issues when they come up.
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