Nearly 44% of U.S. physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout in 2017, compared with 54.4% in 2014 and 45.5% in 2011, according to a new study published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings and conducted jointly with the American Medical Association.
Doctors were more satisfied with their work-life balance now (42.7%) than in 2014 (40.9%), but not in 2011 (48.5%).
Physicians are at a higher risk for burnout than workers in other U.S. fields, and are less likely to be satisfied with their work-life integration, the study of over 5,000 doctors noted.
Research around burnout has spiked in recent years as the industry has come to terms with the situation. Many factors carry the blame for increased administrative burden on doctors: rampant consolidation altering practice structure and everyday routines, policy regulations and legislative changes and increasing prevalence of EHRs, among others.
Different studies have oscillated somewhat in pinpointing the exact number of stressed and depressed docs, but the consensus is somewhere around half, with an early 2018 Medscape study arriving at almost two-thirds.
More recent tallies agree more strongly with Friday's report. A September 2018 JAMA study found that 45.2% of resident physicians experience burnout and another Medscape report published earlier this year found that nearly 44% do. The numbers are thought to be higher among female doctors, but finding consistency between studies is notoriously difficult.
Burnout in clinicians not only hurts care quality but also costs the system. An April 2018 study found the price tag for physician burnout could be as much as $17 billion a year.
Although healthcare positions are desirable due to their high salaries and relatively stable job security, the U.S. is currently facing a doctor shortage fueled by an aging population and workforce, projected to reach over 121,000 by 2020.
With these industry headwinds, it's imperative to not give doctors any more reason to find other employment, experts say. And though burnout seems to be lessening according to this new research, the industry shouldn't just count on it to die out on its own.
"The tide has not yet turned on the physician burnout crisis," AMA president Barbara McAneny said in a statement. "There is a strong economic and public health case for prioritizing a comprehensive strategy to reduce the work-induced syndrome of burnout and caregiver fatigue that is pushing physicians out of medicine."
The study, conducted by Mayo Clinic, AMA and Stanford University School of Medicine researchers, assessed burnout using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, an industry-standard questionnaire for measuring the detrimental state.