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Physician burnout a ‘public health crisis’: report

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Boston — Frequent changes to health care environments and protocol have contributed to an increased rate of burnout among physicians – creating a public health crisis that “urgently demands action,” a recent report from the Harvard Global Health Institute concludes.

The report cites existing research illustrating the prevalence of physician burnout. One study referenced, the 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians Practice Patterns and Perspectives, found that 78 percent of respondents experienced feelings of professional burnout, a 4 percent increase from the results of a 2016 survey conducted by the Physicians Foundation.

Additionally, the report cites findings from the Mayo Clinic showing that physicians who experience burnout are more likely to reduce their work hours or leave the profession altogether. An estimate from the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that the United States will experience a shortage of 90,000 physicians by 2025.

“The growth in poorly designed digital health records and quality metrics has required that physicians spend more and more time on tasks that don’t directly benefit patients, contributing to a growing epidemic of physician burnout,” study co-author Ashish Jha, a Veterans Administration physician and professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a Jan. 17 press release.


In the same release, Dr. Alain Chaoui, study co-author and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said health care institutions need “to recognize burnout at the highest level and to take active steps to survey physicians for burnout, and then identify and implement solutions. We need to take better care of our doctors and all caregivers so that they can continue to take the best care of us.”

The report includes several recommendations for health care industry stakeholders, including:

  • Support proactive mental health treatment, as well as physicians experiencing burnout and related challenges.
  • Improve the usability and standards of patient electronic health records, a known contributing factor to physician burnout.
  • Designate executive-level chief wellness officers at major health care organizations.

“If left unaddressed, the worsening crisis threatens to undermine the very provision of care, as well as eroding the mental health of physicians across the country,” the report states.

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