Are you so focused on your practice that you’re suffering from physician burnout?
Running a successful medical practice is challenging. Not only do you have to devote time to your patients, but you also need to manage your staff and make sound business decisions. It’s no wonder that it seems like there are never enough hours in the day.
Not to put even more on your plate, but finding time for self-care — whatever that means for you — is critical to maintaining your own health and well-being. In a recent survey, 44% of physicians report burnout. As a physician, you need to be on top form to take care of your patients, lead your practice, and yourself.
What causes physician burnout?
The major contributing factors to physician burnout include:
- Being overwhelmed with administrative tasks
- Long hours
- Electronic health records
- Patient dissatisfaction
- Lack of respect
When you went to medical school, you devoted your time to studying the human body and disease. You prepared to diagnose health problems and prescribe treatments to improve your patients’ health and quality of life — you didn’t spend time learning how to run a business.
Obviously, you can and are running a business, but how much time are you wasting on administration when you could be seeing patients or spending time with your family? Many physicians have to work hard to balance their patient responsibilities with tasks such as scheduling, dealing with canceled appointments, payroll, and other paperwork.
Other factors that contribute to physician burnout include:
Fear of litigation
We live in litigious times — around 34% of physicians have been sued, and almost 17 % have been sued more than once. However, it’s important to note that being sued doesn’t necessarily indicate a medical error — approximately 68% of claims are dropped or dismissed. Nonetheless, if you happen to find yourself or your practice in this situation, it’s stressful and time-consuming, even if the case ends up being thrown out.
Lack of respect
Physicians are typically well-respected and trusted professionals, but recently the general public is losing trust in physicians and becoming disrespectful to individuals and the profession overall. The doctor-patient relationship should be sacrosanct and include the highest levels of trust. However, today, patients are losing faith. From feeling like they don’t get enough time with you, the adverse effects of consulting with Dr. Google, and outlier physicians who put their own financial and celebrity gains before the needs of their patients, there’s a lot of negativity surrounding your calling.
Bad reviews and complaints
These days, everyone’s a critic. Even when they know very little about what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, online platforms have given unhappy patients a very loud voice that can impact how potential patients, and search engines, perceive your practice. Speaking in broad generalizations, patients don’t want to wait for anything. They want quick results, and, in many cases, they’re in pain and scared. Top that off with a lack of understanding about what you do and the limitations you face, and it’s a recipe for potential disaster.
Declining insurance reimbursement
Insurance companies are paying less for your time and certain billing codes than ever before, which causes a variety of problems. First, in order to generate enough income, you need to overschedule your day. This means that you have less time to spend with each patient. Less time means that you might not get a chance to talk to your patients about all their concerns, which could lead to you either not identifying a problem or not being able to give your patients peace of mind that they’re healthy.
Why is physician burnout a problem?
Physician burnout can impact your professional performance and your physical and mental health. When you manage your own practice, this can affect both your personal wellness as well as the health of your practice.
Your own health
Burnout affects your mental and physical health, as well as your cognitive function. For example, if you’re spending too many hours at your practice completing patient charts or other administrative paperwork, you’re getting home late, probably not eating well, and missing out on critical, high-quality sleep. Lack of sleep alone can impair your memory and cognitive function, which increases your risk of making errors.
The extra stress can also lead to unhealthy life choices such as not getting enough exercise or drinking too much alcohol. When you’re stressed and burnt out, you’re also more likely to be short with your employees, family, and friends — which will only compound the issue.
Research indicates that physician burnout leads to less satisfied patients. If you’re burnt out or demoralized, it can affect your memory and attention. This distracts you and interferes with your ability to interact with your patients, your peers, and your staff. You’re more likely to make mistakes that can lead to dissatisfied patients, or worse, as well as decisions that could disrupt your practice. Your bedside manner can deteriorate as can your patience with your employees, friends, and family.
What can you do about burnout?
Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your burnout. While you may need to invest more time initially, you can put structures in place in your practice that allow you to devote enough time to your patients, your practice, and yourself.
It often feels easier to just complete tasks yourself instead of teaching an employee to do something. However, delegating administrative tasks is the best way to clear your time for the more fulfilling and profitable work of seeing patients. While all your staff should be trustworthy and reliable, find a natural leader, and train them to take over office and personnel management tasks such as scheduling, vacation requests, and responding to patient record requests.
Second, if you can find ways to automate and outsource certain parts of your practice. Do it. For example, if your office is overwhelmed with patient record requests, check out ePaper Road. ePaper Road is a user-friendly, cost-efficient way to manage your patient record requests promptly while staying in full compliance with all state regulations and laws.
Consider the cash-for-service business model
Some physicians are operating on a concierge medicine or cash-for-service program and don’t take insurance anymore. Maybe they got fed up with the endless billing battle or having to herd too many patients through their offices to generate enough fees to make ends meet. Regardless of the motivation to make this change, these business models allow you to spend more time with patients without losing money. The downside of these models is that you might exclude patients who can’t afford cash payments. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of different business models, but if you’re tired of feeling like a hamster in a wheel when it comes to patient care, you might find value in this option.
Spend time outside
When you’ve created more space in your day, then you need to take care of yourself. In addition to making sure that you get enough sleep and eat well, you should aim to spend at least 120 minutes outside every week. That’s less than 20 minutes a day. A study published in Scientific Reports earlier this year revealed that people who spend 120 minutes outside every week report higher levels of good health and well-being than those who spend less time outdoors. Your two hours can be cumulative, or you can enjoy the great outdoors for 120 consecutive minutes.
You need to take care of yourself to take care of your patients and your practice. Figure out how to move administrative tasks off your plate and how to take care of yourself to avoid burnout.