Physician burnout is at an all-time high, says AMA

After declining for six years, the burnout rate among doctors began to spike with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by the American Medical Association, Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine. By the end of 2021, some 21 months later, the physician burnout rate rose to an unprecedented high.

WHY IT MATTERS

The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that the prevalence of burnout among U.S. physicians was 62.8% in 2021, compared with 38.2% in 2020, 43.9% in 2017, 54.4% in 2014 and 45.5% in 2011.

The result is that one in five physicians intends to leave their current practice within two years. 

“While the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic are hopefully behind us, there is an urgent need to attend to physicians who put everything into our nation’s response to COVID-19, too often at the expense of their own wellbeing,” Dr. Jack Resneck Jr., AMA president, said in a prepared statement.

Though occupational burnout among doctors is higher relative to the U.S. workforce, stretched thin during the pandemic, emotionally exhausted clinicians exhibited cynicism, disillusionment and career disengagement.  

Resneck said the joint findings demand the action outlined in the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians, a roadmap released in June that addresses the needs of doctors with five key goals:

  • Supporting telehealth.

  • Reforming Medicare payment.

  • Stopping scope creep.

  • Fixing prior authorization burdens.

  • Reducing physician burnout. 

Supporting physicians and prioritizing their wellbeing is essential to national goals, said Resneck, who was inaugurated in June. AMA plans to address the “dysfunction in healthcare” by working to remove obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care, he said. 

THE LARGER TREND

Burned-out doctors deal with record backlogs, missed breaks, no time to eat and other impacts on their wellbeing. 

Job regrets are greatest in hospital settings among doctors aged 31-50 working in emergency medicine, according to an analysis of 170 studies involving more than 239,000 doctors by the University of Manchester in England.

That study also found patients treated by burned-out doctors face additional risks when they receive care. 

Suddenly delivering care virtually – and managing the intense workloads that come along with it – has been a worldwide problem, closely linked to electronic health record usability and administrative burdens.

Technology can alleviate administrative burdens so that doctors can focus more on patients.

UCHealth added real-time prescription benefit software to alleviate tasks like making phone calls to the pharmacy to ask about cost information or manually searching for medication alternatives or coupons and to provide greater price transparency to patients. 

Within UCHealth’s EHR, providers can now see previously inaccessible data, like lower-cost options.

“By making this information accessible at the point of care and integrating with our EHR, the technology also reduces the administrative burden on clinical staff and streamlines workflows,” Dr. CT Lin, CMIO at UCHealth, told Healthcare IT News in May.

ON THE RECORD

“America’s doctors are a precious, and irreplaceable, resource,” said Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, past president of AMA, in June at the recovery plan’s unveiling.

“Physician shortages, already projected to be severe before COVID, have almost become a public health emergency,” he added. “If we aren’t successful with this recovery plan, it’ll be even more challenging to bring talented young people into medicine and fill that expected shortage.”

Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.


Email: afox@himss.org


Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.