Don’t Downplay Physician Burnout

This article first appeared on December 7, 2017 on Credentialing Resource Center.

If you believe half of what you read, just north of 50% of physicians nationwide, on average, are suffering from burnout. When they hear this, many medical staff leaders react by saying there is probably some burnout in their facilities, but it is not that high. Others react by saying that burnout is an awful term that has become hackneyed and overused. Some go so far as to say it does not exist, claiming physicians just need to suck it up and soldier on.

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Medical staff leaders should take a step back. Even if you dislike the term “burnout,” it is useful to look at the three domains that formed the original definition: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and loss of personal accomplishment. Do your physicians experience any of the three domains?

As physicians, we are trained to use data to make a diagnosis and from that develop a care plan. How do you get data regarding the three domains for your medical staff? There are a number of brief and straightforward inventories that can be administered in your organization to give you a snapshot of where your medical staff resides.

The classic measurement tool is the 22-question Maslach Burnout Inventory, which includes seven demographic questions, two qualitative measures, and survey questions regarding the three domains listed above. There is also a nine-question Maslach Burnout Inventory (abbreviated) if your medical staff is suffering from survey fatigue. Also available are the 11-question Mini Z Burnout Survey offered by the AMA’s STEPS Forward program, which can be completed in one to three minutes, and the 25-question Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, which captures information regarding resilience.

The reality is that simple tools are available to measure and quantify whether physician disengagement is a challenge in your organization. Additionally, this is something that can be measured over time to see if interventions are effective (or not).

Why does it matter? First, burnout has the potential to threaten patient safety, lower quality of care, and ultimately increase healthcare costs. Just as importantly, these are our colleagues, and they might be suffering with a condition for which we can provide help and guidance. It is no secret that physicians and medical staffs in general do not do a stellar job in this regard.