Health Care Quarterly:

A doctor’s own well-being can get lost when navigating through long hours and a sea of paperwork 

A healthy physician is vital to healthy patients and the broader health care system.

Employee burnout and, in turn, employee retention are serious issues that affect nearly every business and trade. Examining a variety of national studies and statistics and it is clear: Health care is certainly no exception.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 45.8 percent of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout. The study also concluded that physicians worked 10 more hours per week than the average American worker and were 10 percent more likely to show symptoms of work-related burnout.

The closing thoughts of a January 2018 report on physician burnout, released by the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained: “If left unaddressed, the worsening crisis threatens to undermine the very provision of care.”

So, what are some of the symptoms of physician burnout, what is causing it and what may be done to address it?

Some of the most commonly cited symptoms associated with physician burnout include long hours and the psychological pressure associated with working in medicine.

However, in health care as a whole, there appears to be one underlying symptom that is leading to enhanced stress and triggering other burnout symptoms — the growing administrative burden.


The No. 1 Burnout Symptom

Study after study shows that dealing with electronic health records and regulatory compliance are the top factors leading to physician burnout.

In a July 2018 survey conducted by Reaction Data and published by Health Care Informatics, EHRs were the No. 1 factor deemed to be contributing to burnout at 21 percent. A Medscape survey released in early 2019 determined “too many administrative tasks” was the leading cause of burnout, cited by 59 percent of participating physicians.

And, the report released by the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, claimed that for every one hour doctors are spending with patients, doctors are spending two hours on administrative tasks.


The Solutions

Today’s medical realm is vastly different than just 20 years ago, with records-related mandates like never before. Here in 2019, it is absolutely vital to invest in the technology that streamlines pertinent paperwork and ultimately reduces the wait time for everyone — patients, staff and doctors.

Comprehensive is associated with US Oncology Network and McKesson Specialty Health, ensuring we have the best and the newest versions of electronic medical records systems internally.

Unfortunately, the landscape of EMRs communicating with each other remains disjointed nationally, making it administratively difficult to go from one specialist to another. But, there are solutions emerging to reduce the broader administrative burden.

Perhaps equally if not more important than proper technology is proper staffing. At Comprehensive, we have hired more doctors, nurse practitioners, scribes, medical assistants and technicians so each physician can devote more time with patients. In addition to more face-time with patients, this ultimately reduces excess hours and provides for a better work/life balance.

A final thought: Doctors are humans, too. They have real feelings and emotions, just like anyone else. And, they are wanting to do the absolute best for their patients. Vital to a patient’s success is a doctor that is on his or her A-game. So, as a practice and industry, we are always looking to push the needle forward and empower some of our most valuable assets.

At Comprehensive, we empower our employees through a number of benefits designed to keep them mentally and physical strong. These benefits include trainings that ultimately help improve communication between departments, a wellness initiative, and an employee assistance program providing free counseling, among other services.

A key thought behind our efforts and advocating for physicians is this thought: Everyone is on the same team and we’re in this fight together.

Dr. Matthew Schwartz is a radiation oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers.