Inside Scoop: Rates of Burnout in Different Physician Specialties
The COVID-19 pandemic might be going away – one of these days — but burnout among physicians surely isn’t. Unfortunately, it’s getting worse, at least according to Medscape’s annual report.
According to the report, Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2022: Stress, Anxiety, and Anger, which surveyed more than 13,000 physicians across 29 specialties, nearly half of all doctors reported feeling burnout last year. That’s up five percent from 2020, the height of the pandemic.
The report lists the biggest contributors to physician burnout as too many bureaucratic tasks (60 percent), a lack of respect from employers, colleagues or staff (39 percent) and too many hours spent at work (34 percent). More than half of respondents acknowledged through the survey that burnout has had a strong/severe impact on their life, which has led to them being easily exasperated with patients and less motivated to be careful with taking patient notes.
Reading through a report like this almost makes it easy to view clinicians as mere numbers, not the professionals most of us trust to guide us on our healthcare journey. These individuals, though, who underwent extensive training and years of study to become a doctor, are members of our community. They’re husbands and wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers.
Topping the List: Emergency Physicians
The Medscape report doesn’t only provide information on how many physicians experience burnout and for what reasons. It also lists the specialties in which the most doctors report it. Topping this year’s list is emergency medicine, in which 60 percent of physicians reported burnout, followed by critical care (56 percent), obstetrics and gynecology (53 percent), infectious diseases and family medicine (both 51 percent). Rounding out the bottom five were:
- Orthopedics (37 percent)
- Oncology (36 percent)
- Pathology (35 percent)
- Dermatology (33 percent)
- Public health and preventive medicine (26 percent)
It might not surprise you to see ED professions top the list, but “only” 43 percent of emergency medicine physicians reported burnout in the previous survey. Maybe it was the COVID-19 effect, right? Not according to the report. Only 10 percent of doctors reported that stress from treating patients with the novel coronavirus contributed most to their burnout.
Why exactly, then, are emergency physicians (EPs) experiencing so much burnout? There are many reasons, not the least of which is the high-intensity work they perform. In addition to an erratic schedule, including working on weekends and holidays, a lot of EPs work extra shifts to pay off debt from medical school. Night shift work in particular has been correlated with an elevated risk of depression, diabetes, heart disease and cancers of the breast and colon.
As if they didn’t have enough stress to deal with, EPs are more likely to be sued than doctors in other specialties. That’s not exactly fair, considering they encounter more sick patients than other physicians and often do so without a regular support staff. Any experienced doctor knows that a supportive team is the backbone of any successful practice.
EPs also are frequently required to switch tasks, especially when the ED is busier than usual. There’s no research to back it up, but most EPs and nurses who work in emergency departments will tell you that they’re busier than usual when the weather is bad or there’s a full moon lurking outside.
The danger isn’t only outside for EPs. Would you believe that almost half of EPs report being physically assaulted on the job? ED nurses have it worse — more than two-thirds of them report having been hit and kicked by patients. And you thought your job was tough!
Addressing Burnout Through Automation
The good news is that burnout among healthcare clinicians is finally receiving the attention it should. Hospitals and health systems are implementing and expanding wellness programs for their employees and promoting access to resources for mental health.
When designed correctly, technology has the potential to reduce physician burnout by automating multiple administrative tasks, from check-in for patient registration all the way through the patient journey to payment. It also can be applied to address the healthcare staffing shortage, which doesn’t show any signs of abating.
For example, enabling patients to use digital check-in tools vastly streamlines the check-in process, decreases wait times and reduces the workload of practice staff members. Patients can use a personal smartphone to verify their insurance, sign consent forms and authorization releases, verify or update clinical information and more — all of which updates in real-time with the patient’s electronic record.
Check out our complete guide to physician burnout for information on its causes and symptoms and what solutions are available for doctors and nurses.