Physician Burnout A Healthcare Crisis Impacting Quality Of Care And Driving Medical Errors

Although physician burnout is not a new phenomenon, it has been put in the spotlight recently due to its rise in frequency. A 2021 survey by the Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine noted that 62.8% of physicians experienced symptoms of burnout, up from 38% in the previous year.

While the crisis of COVID has dissipated and was a leading stressor, one could argue the effects are still lingering. For one, the continued questioning of science and proliferation of misinformation around medicine in general has created a rift in the physician-patient relationship. Additionally, physicians often point to the administrative obstacles brought on by changing governmental requirements as a key component to their increase in job dissatisfaction. The AMA
recently spoke out on the topic of prior authorization, noting it as an antiquated system that must be reformed and a key point of frustration for doctors.

Burnout can occur in any workplace, but for physicians and health networks, its impact on patient safety sparks a need for additional concern. For some time, the focus on patient safety has been placed on a system approach, but this ignores a key component. While putting these systems in place has clearly shown to be beneficial, one could argue these benefits are derailed by overwhelmed providers suffering the fatigue of burnout.

Dr. Daniel Tawfik, a lead author of a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, looked at systems versus physician burnout in contributing to errors. What he found was “…rates of medical errors tripled in medical work units, even those ranked as extremely safe if physicians working on that unit had high levels of burnout. “The correlation between physician burnout and potential errors is not surprising, and with the significant increase in physicians reporting struggles as noted above, we must support physicians in the functions of their daily practice to make an impact on decreasing medical errors. We all have a personal stake in setting up the structures to support our physicians, as the impact goes beyond staffing or financial concern, and to the heart of the quality of care goal that every provider and health system strives for daily. It is incumbent on administrators to encourage an open dialogue on mental health that supports colleagues checking in with each other. These efforts must go beyond a pat on the back, to a review of the systems in place cultivating the accelerated rates of burnout.

Multiple pain points contributed to the issue at hand that must be addressed. Solving this requires actions from the government, insurance carriers, the tech sector, and health systems to change workflow responsibilities, increase reimbursement, and eliminate redundant administrative tasks, allowing physicians to do what they are trained to do. The first thing we must do is listen to what our providers are telling us they need. I believe Jack Resineck, Jr., MD, former President of the AMA, said it best in speaking out for his fellow colleagues: “Physicians haven’t lost the will to do our jobs – we are just frustrated that our health care system is putting too many obstacles in the way.” This is a fixable problem that cannot be ignored.

Connect with Jenn Negley, Vice President, National Healthcare Practice at Risk Strategies at 267-251-2233 or jnegley@

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