Medical Experts Offer Thoughts, Advice for Physician Burnout

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL ( – An increase in administrative burdens, frustrations with new technological requirements and less time available to spend with patients are among the causes of physician burnout. The problem has reached critical levels, according to recent reports. In workers’ compensation that may be even more so, due to the added pressures inherent in the system.

Physicians say it’s a problem that should be recognized but one that can be addressed. Providers themselves, along with workers’ compensation stakeholders can ensure physicians take care of themselves physically and emotionally so they can lead happy and productive lives.

The Problem

“It’s definitely real. It’s a crisis that continues to grow,” said Dr. Michelle Mudge-Riley, CEO of Physicians Helping Physicians. “I left clinical practice in 2004, and even then, it had gotten worse.”

Her company helps physicians in all types of organizations and at all levels who have reached or are nearing the ends of their proverbial ropes. That may involve helping them transition to non-clinical work or finding other outlets in which to express themselves. The key is helping physicians become part of a physician community.

“One of the bigger aspects [in physician burnout] is the lack of comradery, and the lack of physicians being able to interact together in a positive way,” she said. “The doctors’ lounges are largely gone. There is not a lot of time to let off steam, to commiserate, to talk.”

Mudge-Riley, who is also Entrepreneur in Residence & Faculty member at San Antonio-based Trinity University, as well as a speaker on wellness, genomics, career transition and non-traditional careers, said the role of the physician has changed over the years.

“A lot of us feel a loss of control of our schedules and our lives, and we’re not able to dictate what happens to the patient from start to finish,” she said. “Working together with different providers can be good but also difficult. Often times a physician’s leadership is overshadowed or not allowed to be carried through and the decisions he makes that are in a patient’s best interests may get lost.”

That may also be true in workers’ compensation, where any number of stakeholders are involved in a claim, often with competing interests. “Especially attorneys when there is litigation,” said Dr. Chris Brigham, the founder of Brigham and Associates, senior contributing editor for the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Sixth Edition, and a well-known industry speaker.

Brigham also cites the increased paperwork, such as documentation to gain preapproval for various treatments as another reason workers’ compensation physicians might suffer from burnout. The design of the system itself could also be a significant factor.

“There are probably more behavioral issues to deal with because in the workers’ compensation system we focus on the injury and what is wrong, rather than on getting the worker well and back to function,” Brigham said. “The design of the system makes interactions difficult.”

Physician Self Help

Some of the very things that physicians find frustrating can actually be used to simplify their processes, such as electronic medical records and other technological requirements. “Physicians certainly need help mastering the current technology involved in the medical world these days, and their approach should be to embrace these, not avoid them,” said Dr. Jacob Lazarovic, chief medical officer for MyAbilities, medical advisor to Amaxx, and former chief medical officer of Broadspire. “For example, telemedicine is one of the new technologies physicians should become adept at using appropriately in their practices and hospital care and in other aspects of medical care delivery.”

Companies can ease the physicians work by providing them with better data, such as comprehensive digital job profiles that describe the physical demands of work tasks. Such services can help physicians more easily make informed decisions about return-to-work opportunities.

Online tools can be developed to help payers share information with physicians, allowing them to work more effectively and quicker.

Lazarovic also offers another piece of advice for practicing physicians who feel overburdened. “One of the pressures physicians face is managing their practices and dealing with the expense of running practices in an environment where reimbursement is lower,” he said. “One thing physicians need to do is either join or form group practices.”

WC Stakeholders

Workers’ compensation stakeholders can take some of the pressure off their partner-providers by helping injured workers better understand the system. “Empower those who are injured to get through a system that’s very complex and make the right decisions with the right healthcare providers involved,” Brigham said.

Involving quality providers, communicating with them and paying them appropriately for their time involved is another suggestion, along with addressing behavioral issues that may be present, such as psychosocial factors.

“And be aware that it’s not like the ‘Marcus Welby’ days,” Brigham said. Physicians are stressed; some of that will come out in their interactions. Be empathetic.”

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