More than 40% of physicians—and 50% of female physicians—are burned out, though doctors in some specialties are suffering more than others, according to Medscape's 2019 National Physicians Burnout & Depression Report.
For the report, Medscape surveyed more than 15,000 physicians across more than 29 specialties about a variety of topics, including burnout, depression, and happiness at work.
Burnout and depression among physicians
Of all the physicians surveyed, 44% reported that they felt burned out. According to the report, burnout rates varied among sexes, with 50% of women and 39% of men reporting being burned out.
Burnout rates also varied by specialty:
When asked about the biggest contributors to burnout, 59% of respondents said they had to deal with too many bureaucratic tasks, while 34% said they were spending too many hours at work:
When asked how they cope with feelings of burnout, 48% of physicians said they exercise, while 43% said they talk with family members or close friends. About a third said they eat junk food, while just over a fifth said they drink alcohol.
Just under two-thirds of physicians said they do not plan to seek help for their burnout or depression. When asked why, 50% said their symptoms weren't severe enough, 47% said they could deal with their burnout without professional help, and 39% said they were simply too busy.
How depression is affecting physicians' work
They survey also found that many physicians have feelings of depression, with 11% reporting they were "colloquially depressed" (meaning that they felt "down, blue, or sad") and 4% reporting that they were clinically depressed.
Among depressed doctors, 47% said their depression did not affect their interactions with patients. However, 35% said they were easily exasperated with their patients, 26% said they were less motivated to be careful while taking patient notes, and 14% said they made mistakes they wouldn't otherwise make.
When asked whether their depression affected their interactions with colleagues or staff, 47% said they were more easily exasperated with colleagues and staff, while 40% said they expressed frustration in front of colleagues and staff. Just 29% said depression did not affect their interactions with colleagues and staff.
The happiest physicians
Medscape also asked physicians about their happiness at work. As with burnout rates, overall work happiness varied by specialty:
How to address physician burnout
Carter Lebares—director of the Center for Mindfulness in Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied burnout among surgical residents—said, "Data are coming to suggest that an institutionally supported network of choices for well-being will be the answer—some combination of things like limited EHR time, increased ratio of patient time, better food choices at work and home, room for personal health (like exercise breaks), tailored mindfulness-based interventions, financial planning services or untraditionally structured jobs."
And addressing these issues is important for access to care, according to Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine. "The fact that physicians are retiring earlier may exacerbate the physician shortage that appears to exist," Kane said. "In years past, physicians who 'retired' often worked part time or kept a small patient base. However, with high malpractice premiums, rules and regulations, and the stress and aggravation that physicians experience, they are often more likely to just want out" (Kane, Medscape, 1/16; LaMantia, Modern Healthcare, 1/16; Larkin, Reuters, 1/16).
Advisory Board's take
Hamza Hasan, Practice Manager, Medical Group Strategy Council
This new report underscores the importance of tackling physician burnout. As is now well-known, the American physician workforce is under tremendous stress, with surveys like this one indicating that around half of physicians in the United States identify as burned out. While much has been written about what's contributing to this burnout, this report's finding that physicians rank "too many bureaucratic tasks" and "the increasing computerization of practice" among their top three causes of burnout echoes one of the main findings of our recent research: Excessive time spent in the EMR has become one of the biggest drivers of the problem.
“Excessive time spent in the EMR has become one of the biggest drivers of the problem.”
While EMRs continue to hold significant promise in the form of improved data analytics, many physicians across the country continue to struggle with their use and feel they spend too much of their time practicing "desktop medicine." One study found that today's physicians spend more than twice as much time looking at screens than they do working with patients. And, in many practices, according to our research, EMRs have simply amplified already broken workflows and processes.
Physician leaders must continue to make burnout prevention a priority and can do so by giving frontline physicians an opportunity to voice their concerns. But they should not forget the important role of the EMR in burnout. To address this, they should make a concerted effort to improve ambulatory workflows, ranging from creating customized EMR training programs, to further investing in improving staffing protocols and care team use.
To discover the six strategies we've identified to alleviate the EMR's growing burden on physician practice, be sure to download the Medical Group Leader's EMR Optimization Playbook. The report will walk you through implementation of these strategies, weigh in on tactics like scribes and voice-recognition technology, and offer case profiles of medical groups who have been able to move the needle of improving their EMR and reducing burnout.
Learn more: How to combat physician burnout
More than half of physicians feel “burned out” due to the never-ending list of mandates and unrelenting pace of change in today’s health care world. With physician burnout reaching epidemic levels, it has also become a top priority for health care executives because of its very real effects on patient experience, quality, and cost.
This research briefing includes five insights to help organizations better understand physician burnout and to mitigate further detriment to their physicians, patients, and business.