It’s widely seen as a national epidemic. More and more physicians are chronically unhappy with their jobs, and there are worries that patient care is being affected.

In fact, a paper published last summer by the National Academy of Medicine said that more than 50% of doctors in the U.S. show signs of burnout. The condition was described as “a high degree of emotional exhaustion…and a low sense of personal accomplishment.”

The paper also revealed a connection between physicians’ unhappiness and the care they provide to patients. The result? A “significant effect on quality and risk of malpractice suits.”

Combating the problem

While there’s no single solution to physician burnout, some clinics and hospitals have found success with these tactics:

  • Less time on administrative tasks. The increasing EMR demands on physicians have been identified as a big factor in physician burnout. If possible, allowing physicians to dictate their patient notes directly into the EMR system can help. Another option is having staff take notes during appointments. These steps may not only relieve physicians of their clerical burden but also help them spend more time with patients — which is why they became physicians in the first place.
  • Opportunities to connect with others. As physicians spend more time entering data into systems, they’re spending less time with patients and colleagues. This can also contribute to higher levels of stress and unhappiness. Something as simple as providing a gathering place at the office may help physicians interact more with each other. Reducing clerical duties can also help physicians increase their face-to-face time with patients, not to mention family and friends.
  • A focus on wellness. Eating right, exercising and spending time away from work is important for all of us. As physicians get busier, however, these good habits tend to fall by the wayside. Many large hospitals are bringing on chief wellness officers to increase awareness of and participation in wellness-related activities. While bringing on a full-time wellness employee isn’t feasible for most medical practices, increased communications about wellness and work/life balance can help.
  • Access to mental health care. In some cases, physician burnout may go beyond the need to unwind and get away from work. That’s why it’s critical that physicians have access to mental health care — and know when to seek it.
  • A proactive approach. Don’t wait until you see the effects of physician burnout to tackle the problem. Start to implement burnout prevention tactics now — even with young physicians who may be eager to grow their practices.

How do your physicians rate themselves?

Helping physicians understand when they’re at risk of burnout is an important step toward alleviating the problem. A well-being index developed by Mayo Clinic can help. Providers take a nine-question, online quiz that evaluates several different types of distress. The tool also provides resources and can help physicians track their progress over time.