Physician Burnout: Its Cost and Treatment
Increased Public Awareness
Public interest and media coverage on burnout has also increased, in part due to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent classification of workplace burnout as an International Classification of Diseases diagnostic code. On May 28, 2019, WHO announced that the ICD-11 revision now includes burnout. WHO classifies burnout an occupational hazard; not as a medical condition. Additionally, the WHO is developing evidence-based suggestions to promote workplace mental wellness.
Han and co-authors cited a 2018 study in which 10 U.S. CEOs from a prominent healthcare organization called physician burnout a public health crisis and called upon other leading healthcare executives to work on this issue collaboratively.
Dr. Goh told OTW, “There are some promising signs indicating that there’s growing awareness and interest to study this problem.”
However, the researchers noted that “Despite the recent public interest in the subject, only a few studies have attempted to quantify the magnitude of burnout in the form of easily understandable metric.”
Effective Burnout Prevention and Treatment
The authors concluded, “Together with previous evidence that burnout can effectively be reduced with moderate levels of investment, these findings suggest substantial economic value for policy and organizational expenditures for burnout reduction programs for physicians.”
What types of burnout prevention programs are effective?
Dr. Goh told OTW, “There have been quite a number of interventions studied by researchers. Some focus on systemic changes in work processes, and others focused on individual-level interventions that aim to help physicians with stress management and coping.”
A 2016 research review in The Lancet suggested that both physician-focused individual supports and larger organizational policy changes can decrease physician burnout rates.
Dr. Ellison reported that the Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG) has had success in reducing burnout by utilizing an “intentional, holistic view of the physician work environment.”
SCPMG provides both emotional support and peer counseling as well as implementing ongoing wellness and self-care strategies. This along with addressing organizational stressors in practice environments such as scheduling and support staff needs has reportedly resulted in decreased or stable turnover rates over the past five years, as well as increased overall physician well-being.
Dr. Ellison calls for other healthcare industry leaders to adopt increased supports for physicians under stress and implementation of mental wellness programs for providers.
How to garner more interest?
Medscape Medical News reported that former hospital chief executive Ronald A. Paulus, M.D., posited that highlighting the economic benefits of addressing burnout is the most effective route toward garnering investment in wellness programs for providers.
At a National Academy of Medicine meeting last month, Dr. Paulus stated, “You frame it in a context they can relate to” such as the concept of return on investment or ROI. He emphasized, “People always want to know about ROI. ROI is dramatic in this space.”