A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine of over 7,000 United States physicians revealed that almost 50% exhibited the symptoms of burnout. Researchers concluded that physicians suffer more burnout than the majority of other workers in the U.S. The question is why?

Dr. Tait D. Shamfelt, M.D., lead author of the study said, “The fact that almost 1 in 2 physicians has symptoms of burnout implies that the origins of this problem are rooted in the environment and care delivery system…”

Compared to other working adults, almost 50% of doctors admitted to burnout, 37.9% exhibited high levels of emotional exhaustion, 29.4% showed high levels of depersonalization and 12.4% had a low sense of accomplishment. The results were achieved using the Maslach Burnout Inventory Assessment. These numbers are extremely disturbing, in my opinion because physician burnout leads to drug and alcohol abuse, medical errors, malpractice, early retirement, etc…

What is causing this burnout? “Two consistent factors that seem to be driving burnout are lack of control or autonomy and loss of meaning in what physicians do,” Dr. Colin West, MD, PhD of the Mayo Clinic stated. What he means is that there are things increasingly getting in the way of the physician-patient relationship. Countless forms to fill out, dictation, endless paperwork- “…all of which take a toll that has gotten heavier in the last 10 years,” Dr. West added. “Patients say they are dissatisfied because physicians spend so little time with them. But beyond the face-to-face visit, the reality is that there are so many tasks that must be taken care of, and physicians have to get them done,” Dr. West said.

The more remedial the task, the more hours a doctor spends away from home. Dissatisfaction with work-life balance due to longer work hours and longer work weeks was associated with a higher probability of burnout. Doctors in the fields of family practice, internal medicine, emergency medicine, Ob/Gyn, and surgeons had the highest burnout in the survey. Conversely, dermatology, pediatrics, and preventative medicine had the highest levels of satisfaction for their respective fields.

What is the cause of this excess paperwork required now vs. 30 years ago? How can doctors get back to forming meaningful relationships with their patients without worrying about how much time they are spending per patient? I will give you some answers and some solutions next month…