The rapid advances of medical science, patients’ expectations, the loss of autonomy, insurers’ regulations, fears of litigation, and the documentation burden of recording patient data on electronic medical records all contribute to widespread physician dissatisfaction, and cynicism with medical practice referred to simply as “burnout.”
Some have reduced their hours, some have quit medicine. Some just suffer in silence.
But of the many causes, inputting information electronically is the number one “pain point” identified by physicians as bringing on burnout.
Clearly, electronic medical record systems need to be simplified so that they record only the information that doctors recorded with their pen and paper. But it is doubtful that insurers would accept this because they use electronic records as efficient billing machines.
Some doctors accept electronic records more easily than others. It may depend on their specialty. Surgeons seem to complain less, perhaps because their work is more straightforward.
Others, like primary care doctors who deal with the whole universe of symptoms and complaints—physical and emotional that patients bring to them often are overwhelmed. They have to talk to and examine their patients, sort out the symptoms and physical signs, order or review lab tests and consultations and then search for the correct sections and billing codes to check off on the computer.
Medicine these days seems more like a business transaction. And although the majority of doctors complain about it, little has been done to make things better.
To combat the widespread burnout brought on by electronic records and the excessive administrative tasks that many doctors are forced to deal with, many hospitals across the nation are forming physician peer support (well-being) groups that address the psychological stress that according to a report by the Kessler Institute affects about 50 percent of physicians.
Some hospitals have created peer support programs and appointed chief wellness officers (CWO) in executive positions to manage them.
Most physicians suffer in silence while dealing with fatigue or having made a mistake and worrying about possible litigation or any of the challenges that they stoically face every day.
Some hospitals (Stanford Medical and Kaiser Permanente) have created peer support programs and appointed chief wellness officers (CWO) in executive positions to manage them.
The combination of stress and fatigue and loss of control and loss of a sense of purpose are so great that according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and its affiliates, burnout has been called a public health crisis because it can lead to medical errors.
We are in the planning stages of forming a peer support group in my hospital, adopting some of the strategies developed at the Mayo Clinic (Mayo Clinic Strategies To Reduce Burnout: 12 Actions to Create the Ideal Workplace).
We have brought together a group of physician volunteers who are making themselves available to any colleague who feels the need to share concerns they may have brought on by stress and depression. Sometimes just talking to an understanding colleague in a support group is all that is needed to overcome the hopelessness and isolation of suffering in silence.
Physician peer support groups can help our colleagues who suffer in silence as the stresses of practice take their toll not only on their professional lives but on their personal lives as well.
Edward J. Volpintesta is an internal medicine physician.
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