Burnout: it's the buzzword overused to discuss daily frustrations. But burnout is actually a specific, well-researched condition that can have tangible negative consequences for both physicians and patients. We define the condition and outline strategies to combat it, including advice from physicians themselves. Implement some of these strategies, and you’ll quickly be able to prevent or manage orthopedic physician burnout at your practice today.
Burnout has 3 defining characteristics: emotional exhaustion, a loss of personal identity or depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Additionally, a mood of cynicism, along with a sense of lack of control and/or a feeling of being drained or having nothing left to give can also be present. Detaching from one’s patients or viewing them as objects rather than people is often a natural consequence of these symptoms. While these symptoms can be found in a variety of mental and emotional health conditions, these symptoms all relate specifically to one’s occupation. A study conducted in 2019 by Medscape found a 38% burnout rate among orthopedic physicians.
Left untreated, burnout can have tangible negative consequences for an orthopedic practice. Increased risk of both physical and emotional illness for physicians can result, as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, male infertility, type 2 diabetes, and elevated rates of substance abuse. Physicians can become short or irritated with patients and coworkers in the office, affecting the practice’s patient satisfaction rate and office workflow. Finally, burnout is associated with increased medical errors.
Combat Burnout Today
According to Medscape, the most frequently used strategies for combating burnout are exercise (48%) and talking to family or close friends (43%). Engaging in these activities are not only healthy coping mechanisms, they also work to combat depersonalization by restoring a sense of community. Create a workplace culture that destigmatizes burnout by encouraging physicians to reach out for support from a mentor or colleague.
Some organizations have instituted formal wellness programs, in a bid to incentivize well-being activities and provide mental health resources to staff, such as crisis management and addiction phone lines. Consider posting these numbers in a common area where they’re visible to all staff.
The chair of the Duke Orthopaedic Surgery Department, Dr. Benjamin Alman, recommends mindfulness training as a way to substantially decrease burnout rates. “This is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” There are many well-researched mindfulness training resources available online that can be easily circulated to team members. He also suggests filling the environment with mood boosters such as softer lighting, calming sounds or smells that promote well-being. You can find easy ways to implement other micro-strategies in the office here.
Mandatory use of an EHR for reporting purposes has been cited as a main cause of burnout for many physicians, taking away from the human component of patient interaction. But it could be that your EHR simply isn’t meeting your practice’s specific needs. For example, Dr. David Adkison of St. Vincent’s Orthopaedics says Exscribe EHR actually increased his level of real patient interaction in the office. Consider switching your system to alleviate burnout symptoms for your physicians. Discover a new solution today.