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  • Writer's pictureMuhammad Sair Khan

Physician Burnout in the Mental Health Field

Rates of physician burnout are on the rise across the country and especially within the mental health care field. Physicians are facing heavier workloads, longer hours, and increasing demands on their physical and emotional energy. Many physicians are stressed by administrative requirements, including documentation and dealing with ever-changing electronic health records.

The combination of these stresses is affecting physicians’ personal health as well as their job performance. If your staff is burnt out, it can affect their ability to properly care for patients and increases the chances that they’ll resign from your organization, leaving you with a staff shortage. Poorer performance may also reflect in patient satisfaction scores or patient outcomes, lowering your reimbursement and affecting your bottom line.

Signs of Physician Burnout

If you aren’t paying attention, you may miss signs of physician burnout for weeks or months. More than half of physicians in the United States show at least one sign of burnout, according to a 2014 survey. Your physicians may be experiencing burnout if they show symptoms such as:

  • Negative or cynical attitude toward medicine or patients

  • Depersonalization of patients or lack of compassion toward patients

  • Fatigue or exhaustion

  • Irritability or becoming impatient with other team members or patients

  • Inattention or forgetfulness

  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol use

  • Suicidal ideation

Your staff is also more likely to experience burnout after committing a medical error, which can lead to distress and feelings of inadequacy.

How to Help Physicians Avoid Burnout

To help keep your staff performing well, you need to invest in efforts to prevent physician burnout. These efforts often start with the role physicians play in leadership and governance of your facility. Studies show that physicians who feel more in control of their work are less likely to exhibit signs of burnout.

Ensure your physicians have a say in how your facility runs by seeking their input with surveys or through committees or boards that do not add to their workload. It may be helpful to have one physician serve as a liaison for all your physician needs.

You should also take minor burdens off physicians whenever possible. For instance, medical assistants can collect patient vitals, enter them into the medical record, and communicate them to the physician instead of making the physician do this work. Clerks, which have become increasingly popular in emergency departments, may also help physicians by taking careful notes during the patient encounter, making charting and documentation easier for the physician.

You should also build physician schedules to include time off for rest and relaxation. Your physicians may benefit better from a shift-work type schedule or other types of schedules that don’t require long stretches of work at a time. Keeping your facility well-staffed can also help alleviate stress by reducing how much time each physician spends on call.

Physician burnout is a serious problem that’s unlikely to go away as demand for care rises. Take steps now to help your staff, improve your patient care, and protect your bottom line

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