Nearly 44% of American physicians report feeling burned out — and it's especially a problem for female doctors, according to a new Medscape report on doctor burnout, depression and suicide.
Physicians blamed red tape as a major cause for feeling overworked. Almost 60% pointed to "bureaucratic demands" like charting and paperwork as a main cause of burnout. Long hours came in a distant second (34%) and EHRs ranked third (32%).
The highest reports of burnout were urologists, neurologists and physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists. Slightly more than 50% of those specialists reported burnout. The lowest levels were pathologists, nephrologists and public health specialists.
The Medscape report is just the latest to highlight burnout among doctors. WebMD reported last year that a doctor commits suicide in the U.S. every day, which is the highest rate of any professional.
Burnout and depression remain a problem for healthcare despite wellness efforts to reverse the trend. It's especially a problem for women. Half of female physicians surveyed said they were burned out. The 2018 gender results almost mirror the 2017 percentages.
Paperwork is a main factor of burnout, as well as the number of hours. The survey of more than 15,000 physicians across 29 specialties found that nearly half of doctors working more than 50 hours a week reported burnout. About one-third of physicians working between 31 and 40 hours said they were burned out.
Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape's Business of Medicine site, said in a statement there’s a direct correlation between long hours and burnout. "Regardless of compensation, a lack of work/life balance has an impact. Physicians are making changes to their work life when and if they can, but much remains to be done," she said.
Physicians know they're burned out, but many aren't getting help. Medscape said 15% of respondents said they were depressed and had thoughts of suicide. However, only 43% of those physicians said they've spoken to someone about their suicidal thoughts. A mere one-third sought help from a therapist.
Psychiatry specialists and public health/preventive medicine specialists are most likely to get help with their burnout and depression.
Those addressing the problem often turn to exercise or talk to close family members or friends about the problem. However, 41% said they isolate themselves from others as a way to cope with burnout, which could make the issue worse.
Despite positive reports about healthcare jobs, such as the recent U.S. News & World Report listing 44 healthcare jobs in their top 100 list, pessimism reigns in nursing and for physicians. A recent Leavitt Partners white paper said many doctors are uneasy about the practice of medicine, including financial stability and administrative management.
Leavitt Partners conducted a national survey of 621 physicians and found that 38% had an overall pessimistic outlook on the practice of medicine. That pessimism was highest about long-time doctors and solo practitioners.
However, a recent study in JAMA found that physician burnout starts as early as medical school and residency.
The negativity is so strong that the recent Doctors Company National Survey of Physicians found that 70% of doctors wouldn't recommend healthcare as a profession.
Burnout and pessimism do more than affect doctors physically and mentally. There's also a bottom line impact. Burnout costs health systems and hospitals as much as $1.7 billion a year.