Primary Care Providers Have Highest Levels of Burnout. Here's What Your Health System Can Do

Physician burnout levels almost double separate study from March.

Despite specialists reporting high levels of burnout, it appears the levels among primary care providers surpassed that of specialists. In fact, primary care providers in the U.S. have near 80% burnout levels, according to a recent survey by InCrowd, a Massachusetts-based life science market company and innovator.

The burnout level estimate is nearly double the 43.9% level reported in a study from the American Academy of Family Physicians in March.

“The alarming persistence of physician burnout over the years and across multiple studies unfortunately demonstrates that we have not yet turned the tide on this problematic issue,” said Diane Hayes, Ph.D., co-founder and president of InCrowd.

The survey gathered perceptions form 612 U.S.-based physicians, of which 320 were primary care providers and 319 were specialists. A majority (56%) of the respondents were women. Providers were an average age of 43 and an average 12 years in practice, according to InCrowd.

While 79% of primary care providers reported personally experiencing burnout, 57% of specialists do.

And while it could be easy to believe that older physicians are experiencing higher rates of burnout, the study revealed the opposite. Younger physicians, specifically those in their 30s and 40s, reported the highest rates of burnout (74%).

What’s more, 34% of physicians would not recommend the profession to young family members. This is due to a plethora of reasons, but 32% cited it’s not worth the financial and emotional sacrifices.

“It would be hard to see someone you care about go through the stress of medical school, residency and fellowship knowing that they will face pressure to see as many patients as possible, (electronic health record) stress, administrative duties, etc. all while being reimbursed less and less with time,” said a group practice specialist.

Nearly 25% of providers also reported that familiarity with technology plays a large role on burnout. Tech-related impacts stem from discomfort with the electronic health record (15%), an inability to adapt with evolving technology (14%) and inefficient data entry (5%).

Is Your Health System Effectively Addressing Burnout?

Only 25% of respondents reported that their facility effectively addressed burnout. That percentage was less for respondents representing community and academic hospitals (20% effective).

So where are health systems going wrong?

A majority (53%) said that there is a complete lack of action and acknowledgement of burnout and no meaningful changes, the results revealed. Providers also cited minimal resources available to offload tasks or provide support (15%) and cultural emphasis on the bottom-line over well-being (15%). Too much of a workload and understaffing also appeared to be a problem, with 11% of respondents reporting such contributors to physician burnout.

“The amount of work required of physicians keeps increasing,” said a primary care provider from a practice with more than six physicians. “We deal with long hours, lack of recognition for hard work, no compensation for phone calls or time spent filling out tedious paperwork, decreasing compensation, increasing regulations, patients getting more demanding, jobs being taken by mid-level providers to save money… just to name a few.”

Providers said that among effective burnout practices are creating systems that improve workflow and reduce administrative burden (46%) and providing schedule flexibility or generous vacation time (45%). Many also believe it is important for leadership to invest in wellness initiatives and support systems (41%).

More than half (66%) of respondents said that increased support staffing is something that their facility should implement to address burnout. Other providers said that mandatory vacation time or half-days (57%) and reducing the volume of patients (56%) could help alleviate physician burnout.

“The healthcare industry would benefit from refining and expanding current initiatives to assure adequate staffing levels needed to deliver the quality care patients deserve,” Hayes said.

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