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    How to avoid the corrosive effects of physician burnout

    Burnout, which is often described in terms of the experience of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lost sense of personal accomplishment, is a big and growing problem for physicians and for their patients—with lower quality of patient care where professional burnout rates are higher.

    The practice of medicine is hard, stressful and demanding work, but burnout reflects an inability to recover drive and energy during time away from work or to draw upon a healthy work-life balance. Social psychologist Christina Maslach, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, who developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory in the 1970s, defined it as “an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit and will.”


    Further reading: Physician wellness is a quality indicator worth measuring


    Burnout is also associated with broken relationships, problematic alcohol use and suicidal ideation.

    Tait Shanafelt, MD, a hematologist and researcher in physician well-being at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues recently compared changes in burnout and work-life balance rates between 2011 and 2014.

    Of 6,680 surveyed physicians, 54.4% reported at least one symptom of burnout in 2014, up from 45.5% three years before. Higher rates were reported for frontline physicians in primary care, family medicine, emergency medicine and hospital medicine.

    “Burnout is now exceedingly common for physicians,” notes Mark Linzer, MD, director of the division of general internal medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    Next: 'Preventing burnout in the long run will save the system money'

    Larry Beresford
    Larry Beresford is a contributing author for Medical Economics.


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    • Anonymous
      The solutions given in this article are trivial and useless. The U.S. government with the assistance of the insurance industry have instituted rules and policies that have made private practice impossible for anyone who wants to practice honest, ethical, quality medicine. Outside of private practice, you become an employee of an entity(private or non-profit) where the goal is to get as much productivity out of you for the least amount of compensation and quality becomes secondary. This is the antithesis of why most people go into medicine.
    • Dr. Nancy Blake, MD
      I absolutely agree. I am a solo physician who opted out of all insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare. What a difference in my life! No billing, no rejected claims, I work under my terms. Physicians are terrified to do this, and I do not know why. Physicians are becoming less necessary over time as NPs and PAs pick up the work and we simply supervise. Physicians will complain, write letters, complain some more but NEVER will they, as a group, do anything about being a slave to insurance. If a physician accepts the terms of the insurance contract, they have no right to complain about working under that contract. Next time, reject their mind-numbing, soul-stealing contract and do the right thing. Work for your patient.

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