Doctor Burnout

New Causes and Solutions for Doctor Burnout


These are the tools and approaches resilient providers are embracing now

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout was a huge problem among doctors. A whopping 42 percent of doctors reported feeling burned out in 2018, according to a Medscape report that polled over 15,000 U.S. physicians from 29 specialties. Doctors have long been among the top professions with the highest risk of mental health issues and suicide.

As many as 16,000 medical practices closed in 2020, and another 4 percent planning to shutter within the next year.

And in 2020, the stress caused by the pandemic, lack of PPE, overwork or a decline in patient volume, and other related issues led to the closing of thousands of medical practices, reported the New York Times. According to a July survey of 3,500 doctors by the nonprofit Physicians Foundation, as many as 16,000 practices closed in 2020, and another 4 percent said they planned to shutter within the next year.

It’s not all gloom and doom, however. Most practices are resilient, and those that have fared the best have embraced tools, technology, and techniques that ease their workload and build trust with patients. 

Technology can either add or relieve stress

The COVID-19 crisis has amplified problems that doctors were already facing, Susan R. Bailey, M.D. the president of the American Medical Association, told the New York Times. “A lot of physicians were hanging on by a thread from burnout before the pandemic even started.”

A common cause? The burden of administrative work and the technology—or lack thereof—used to do it, according to HealthcareITNews. “IT can add stress, and it can also alleviate stress. It just depends on the application, how well it has been crafted to meet clinician needs, and whether physicians like it.” 

“Healthcare IT has played a huge part in medical care during the pandemic in the form of telemedicine,” the article continued. In a matter of weeks, the number of telehealth visits skyrocketed. While there certainly have been some growing pains for both providers and patients who may not have ever participated in telehealth before, there are many positive aspects of using this technology.

Telehealth has skyrocketed in popularity, due to necessity and convenience. Use tools such as Rendia’s Exam Mode during virtual visits to streamline and improve patient education.

Besides reducing exposure to the virus, strong reimbursements for doctors, greater convenience for patients, and improved technology have contributed to telemedicine’s increased popularity, according to Rendia guest blogger Paul M. Karpecki, O.D., director of cornea services at Kentucky Eye Institute in Lexington, KY., and director of the OSD Clinic for Gaddie Eye Centers in Louisville, KY.

“Doctors like the efficiency it creates, and it generates new revenue streams and allows improved communications with archivable follow-up patient education. Finally, telemedicine elevates the practice as being innovative and up to speed on technology,” he wrote.

One tool Dr. Karpecki uses during virtual exams is Rendia’s interactive anatomy software, Exam Mode,  which allows doctors to help patients visualize complex anatomy. You can screen-share with patients as you draw, navigate, and animate the anatomy, conditions, and treatments with your finger or stylus. Visuals can help overcome language barriers and make information more accessible. An added benefit is that spouses and caregivers can be included during telehealth visits, which is important now that COVID-19 visitor restrictions prevent some patients from bringing other people to in-person appointments.

Maintaining a sense of purpose and patients’ trust

Another cause of stress during the pandemic has been the constant barrage of information and misinformation coming from the news, social media, and other sources. Patients have been confused, frightened, and sometimes even angry as they struggle to make sense of it all. And many doctors have been feeling the strain of trying to educate patients, maintain their trust, and not get caught up in divisive politics.

 Maintaining your sense of purpose as a trusted provider of reliable health information may help combat feelings of stress and burnout. 

For some providers, reconnecting to their sense of purpose may help. “Doctors, not just the ones on the front lines, have a really important role in communicating true information to their patients and other members of the public because time after time, the research tells us the person patients trust the most is their doctor,” said Tara Kirk Sell, Ph.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

As the U.S. moves forward, all healthcare professionals will play a role in setting the tone for what’s safe, necessary, and appropriate. For tips on handling challenging patients including anti-maskers and conspiracy theorists, see our post, How Can Doctors Retain Patients’ Trust? And to establish yourself as a trusted source of health information while also eliminating the burden of answering the same questions from patients over and over, provide frequently requested info on your own website, social media sites, and in emails to patients, such as these videos about safety measures your practice is taking to prevent the spread of the virus.

Automate patient education and improve adherence

Yet another way technology can help ease doctors’ stress right now is by automating patient education such as post-operative care instructions. In the best of times, patients can have difficulty remembering what to do following surgery. Add in pandemic-related fear and stress, and perhaps the absence of a family member who would normally accompany them to health visits, and adherence drops even further.

Avoid unnecessary patient visits due to non-compliance or misunderstanding care instructions. Send out educational videos with post-op info to patients in advance. 

“Due to non-compliance or misunderstanding care instructions, patients are being put back on the schedule to be seen in a very short amount of time,” Pradeep Vangala, M.D., with Orlando Internal Medicine in Florida, told HealthcareITNews. “To ease this challenge, patients should be properly advised during their visits. New technologies integrated with our communications tools are making coping with this focus area at scale easier and helps relieve the associated stress.”

Consider sending patients educational videos such as LASIK: Post-Op Instructions that they can watch in advance of their surgery and refer to afterwards as needed.

Most practices are resilient

In spite of all the challenges 2020 has brought doctors, “most practices have proved resilient,” according to the New York Times. While patient visits are still below normal, many doctors are reporting that volume now is beginning to pick up. Practices that have pivoted to new ways of delivering care and adopted new tools and technology to do so have the best chance of succeeding in the current climate and going forward.

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