"One of the most prominent definitions describes burnout 'as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in some capacity.'" - Maslach, Jackson & Leiter, 1996 In 1974, the year I started medical school back in Sweden, the German-born American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger published a journal article titled “Staff Burnout." In it, he wrote about the physical and emotional symptoms of ...

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Dear health care administrator, I am writing to you in a spirit of cooperation, because the way health care works today, it is too complex a business to manage on the side while also taking care of patients. And I hope you don’t have any illusions about medicine being so simple that non-physicians like yourself can manage patients’ health care without trained professionals who understand medical science and can adapt the ...

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Back in my first year of blogging, I wrote a post, titled "A Day Without a Diagnosis," about the way we now spend most of our time “managing” chronic diseases, some of which weren’t even considered diseases when I went to medical school. That’s not how all my days go nowadays: A week ago I had a day of some very real doctoring. My first patient of the day was ...

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Physicians today are increasingly viewed and treated as skilled workers instead of professionals. The difference is fundamental and lies at the root of today’s epidemic of physician burnout. Historically, there have been three learned professions: law, medicine, and theology. These were occupations associated with extensive learning, regulation by associations of their peers, and adherence to strong ethical principles, providing objective counsel and service for others. Learned professionals have, over many centuries, worked ...

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77-year-old Edward Tripp had been to the emergency room with chest pain last Friday night. It was relentless, aching, and involved the upper part of his left chest. He had no cough, fever or shortness of breath. He was not sweaty or nauseous, and his blood work, EKG and chest x-ray were normal. He was distinctly tender over the part of his rib cage where bone and cartilage join each other ...

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When I started my first internship, back in Sweden in 1979, I worked under a fifty-something cardiologist who spoke slowly with a southern drawl -- yes, there is a southern drawl there, too, slightly reminiscent of Danish, spoken not far from where my supervisor grew up. He epitomized the old school of cardiology, before it became a procedural specialty. He diagnosed heart murmurs by auscultation with his stethoscope, and he even ...

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Today I met a man who wanted to interview me before transferring his records. He was about my age and seemed polite and pleasant enough. He told me his doctor of a dozen years had started to taper him off his long-term narcotics after he reported some of them missing because of theft. He used to take the equivalent of about 1,200 mg of morphine per day for his back pain. ...

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Health care in America is fracturing right down the middle, and doctors are going to have to figure out if or how long they can straddle the divide between what patients want and what the government and corporate America want them to have. Up until this point, the momentum has been with the payers, Medicare, and the insurance industry. But the more heavy-handed they become, the more inevitable the public backlash ...

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Every primary care physician has had this experience: We refer a patient to a cardiologist, pulmonologist or gastroenterologist and get a note back that says our patient’s symptoms are not cardiac, pulmonary or GI related. “Not my department,” in essence. Medical specialties are organized by organ or organ system, and not by symptom. This really leaves primary care doctors in the default role of being specialists in diagnostics. I often say ...

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Dear Santa, I’ve been a very good doctor all year. I have checked all my boxes and aced all my meaningful use requirements. This year, I’m not asking you for anything fancy. I just thought you might be able to instill some kindness and good will into the people who designed the user interface of my EMR. Maybe, with your help, they would come to see how a few minor tweaks ...

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