Physician Burnout: An Impending Epidemic?

No one is immune from the risk

Many physicians in their careers suffer from burnout, a pervasive process approaching epidemic proportions, according to Susan J. Rehm, MD, Executive Director of Professional Staff Health.

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Physician burnout is considered exhaustion, cynicism or inefficiency caused by a variety of drivers, most often attributed to excessive psychological and emotional demands, Dr. Rehm says, citing numerous related studies.

Dr. Rehm recently spoke to Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, about this public health crisis. Here are some some key take-aways:

Watch for these signs

Some of the telltale signs of burnout include a loss of enthusiasm for work, feeling detached from patients and having a sense that work is no longer meaningful.

The resulting effects can include decreased quality of care, diminished patient satisfaction and decreased productivity. On the personal side, burnout can evidence itself through broken relationships, alcohol and substance abuse, depression, even suicide, Dr. Rehm says.

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“Burnout attacks practitioners in all fields of medicine, Dr. Rehm pointed out. “A recent survey showed that emergency room doctors are most affected at a 59 percent rate; the specialty with the lowest rate, 42 percent, was psychiatric and mental health.”

Help is on the way

Remedial steps are being taken to address physician burnout, says Dr. Rehm. For instance:

• National organizations are looking at the daunting documentation burden on physicians
• Healthcare organizations are introducing periodic assessments of physician engagement and well-being
• Physician-leaders are turning to more participatory management styles to enhance physician engagement, and
• Individual physicians help themselves combat burnout by paying attention to their own well-being, which includes identifying professional and personal priorities, managing stress and just being self-aware

Dr. Rehm advises physicians who feel they may be suffering from burnout to start by talking to a colleague, friend, family member or their PCP.

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