Physician Patient

Causes of The Epidemic of Physician Burnout

At the Jan. 3, 2017 Minnesota Academy of Medicine meeting, Dr. Mark Linzer gave an informative presentation on the work of his team at HCMC to mitigate physician burnout.

It is estimated that significant physician burnout now affects half of US physicians, and it is getting worse. Dr. Linzer cited a Mayo study:

Despite a nationwide shortage of physicians, burnout is both a symptom and cause of the critical problem facing organizations wanting to retain and recruit physician employees as “providers” in health care organizations. There are narrowing employment options for doctors outside of such systems because independent medical practices continue to be bought up at a record pace by hospital-clinic organizations

Mark offered a “demand-control model” for physician burnout in which generic physician stress (pressures on doctors) is counter-balanced by the doctors’ ability to have control of their work environments and the quality of supports which in place to reduce stress. The reference:

From surveying the doctors, two identified reasons for increasing burnout stand out:

1. Time pressure during patient encounters. Not enough quality clinical time with patients, nor the flexibility to adjust their efforts to the patient’s needs.

2. Inputting electronic health records (EHR) which now dominate most physicians’ outpatient and many inpatient clinical encounters which distract from doing quality patient care.

Dr. Linzer’s recommendations included:
Bringing scribes into the examining room whenever possible. The doctor is then free too interact with the patient while the scribe silently types away (in the background).
Expand the (allowable) 20 minute doctor care visit to 30 minutes.
Add (support) perks like a doctor’s lounge, quiet room, child care services and a 7 hours on, 7 off schedule, rather than one of 12 on 12 off. More time off.
Formal listening sessions sponsored by the organization to hear the gripes and complaints of the doctors.

When asked during the Q and A about the financial drivers of physician burnout?, Dr. Linzer said his he’s convinced his recommendations (in progress) save money for the organization — essentially by improving physician productivity and job satisfaction.

A number of audience members commented on the negative consequences to physicians when they are viewed by their organizations as “providers” (health care workers) rather than physicians (professionals). He agreed that this is a real problem.

Not examined or discussed during this fine talk was a connection between HCMC’s financial incentives and the mounting stresses on its employed doctors. Many people are not aware that our public safety net hospital-clinic organization is now an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) called Hennepin Health So an ACO’s financial incentives must be to define increased physician productivity in terms of rewarding physicians for spending less money on patient care.

As a psychiatrist, I am very concerned about patients’data privacy and confidentiality. If the EHR is mandatory in the HCMC system, how can one have privacy and confidentiality in mental health and substance use interviews and encounters? And, if scribes are the answer to reduce documentation stress for most doctors, what is the effect of having another person in the room during one’s doctor-patient encounters?

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