Physician Burnout Rates Prevalent Despite Recent Improvements

While physician burnout remains prevalent, the rate of burnout and work-life integration (WLI) moderately improved among US physicians between 2014 and 2017, according to researchers from the American Medical Association (AMA), Mayo Clinic, and Stanford University, who published their updated findings in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Beginning in 2011, researchers began surveying US physicians as well as workers in other fields every three years to gauge rates of burnout and WLI in doctors relative to other professionals. They initially discovered that almost half of US physicians reported at least one form of professional burnout (characterized by emotional exhaustion or depersonalization), and that issues pertaining to burnout and WLI are more common in physicians than any other field, with the gap only widening when the survey was administered in 2014. These results prompted the AMA to begin working to allay physician burnout while enhancing professional satisfaction by employing several methods such as commissioning a RAND report in 2013, and convening meetings of experts, directors, and other stakeholders.

2017 Survey Shows Improvements, But…

In the current study, researchers canvassed 30,456 US physicians (of which, 5,197 responded (17.1%), between October 12, 2017 and March 15, 2018 along with a probability-based sample of the US working population while utilizing similar methods to their previous studies in 2011 and 2014. Both control groups disclosed information on demographics (age, sex, marital status), symptoms of burnout, depression, suicidal thoughts, and satisfaction with WLI. A secondary, intensive follow-up focused survey was provided to 476 non-responding physicians to appraise bias (of which, 248 responded (52.1%).

When evaluated using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), 2017 results showed a burnout decrease with 43.9% of physicians imparting at least one symptom of burnout in contrast with 54.4%, in 2014, and 45% in 2011. Moreover, 2017 also represented a rise in WLI among physicians (42.7% compared to 40.9%; P<.001). The researchers attributed the declining prevalence of burnout seen in 2017 to the adjustments made to hospital and medical group consolidation, the proliferation of electronic hospital records, and increased administrative burden, factors that potentially caused burnout rates to spike in 2014. However, the results also indicated that physicians were still at an increased risk for burnout on a multivariate examination compared to other professions (OR=1.39; 95% Cl, 1.26 to 1.54).

“Despite the modest improvement, our results indicate that burnout among US physicians remains a major problem for the health care delivery system,” they said in their study. “In our view, the effort to improve health care professional’s well-being is an ongoing journey, analogous to efforts to improve quality and safety. A coordinated, systems-based approach at both the national and organizational levels that addresses the underlying drivers is the key to making progress.”