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HealthCare Provider Burnout Improved, but Still a Problem

A national survey published in 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 reported that US physicians suffer more burnout as compared to other professions. However, new data suggest that even though the risk for burnout remains high, it appears to be improving along with indicators for physician well-being.

Published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the overall reported levels of burnout and satisfaction with work-life integration improved between 2014 and 2017. –

“This is good news. It shows that burnout is being addressed nationally and programs are having some impact,” said senior author Lotte Dyrbye, M.D, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, in a statement. “Clearly, more organizational change and more research is needed to sustain this trajectory.”

Researchers from Mayo Clinic, the American Medical Association and Stanford University began a collaboration to survey US physicians and individuals working in other fields every 3 years, in order to evaluate rates of rates of burnout and satisfaction with work-life integration. In 2011, the year of their first survey, 45% of physicians reported at least one manifestation of professional burnout (emotional exhaustion or depersonalization). As compared with individuals working in other areas, burnout and difficulty with work-life integration was more common in physicians, and this held true even after adjusting for confounders such as level of education and number of hours worked. 

By 2014, when they conducted the next survey, the researchers found that the gaps between physicians and other professions had widened, and physician burnout and dissatisfaction with work-life integration had grown.  More than half of all physicians surveyed (54.4%) reported at least 1 symptom of burnout in 2014 compared with 45% in 2011, and satisfaction with work-life balance also declined in physicians between 2011 and 2014 (48.5% vs 40.9%).

In the current survey, 30,456 physicians were contacted and 5197 (17.1%) completed the survey. A second attempt to reach nonrespondents added 248 more participants, and the survey questions were similar to those on the previous ones. 

Physicians from all specialty areas were identified using the American Medical Association’s Physician Masterfile. As in 2011 and 2014, the researchers oversampled physicians in specialties other than family medicine, general pediatrics, general internal medicine, and obstetrics/gynecology in order to make sure that each specialty was represented in the survey.
But this time, physicians reported lower levels of burnout as compared to 2014. Less than half (43.9%)  reported at least one symptom of burnout, and satisfaction with work-life integration was more favorable in 2017 (42.7%) than in 2014. However, it was still less favorable than reported in 2011 (48.5%).

Upon multivariate analysis, which adjusted for age, sex, relationship status, and hours worked per week, physicians still remained at a higher risk for burnout and were less likely to be satisfied with work-life integration as compared with individuals working in other fields.

Overall, burnout among physicians practicing in the US appears to be lower than in 2014 and closer to the levels reported in 2011. But while this trend is encouraging and suggests improvement is possible,  symptoms of burnout remain a pervasive problem in the medical profession and its prevalence among physicians continues to be markedly higher than in the general working population.

“Despite the modest improvement, our results indicate that burnout among US physicians remains a major problem for the health care delivery system,” the authors write. “In our view, the effort to improve health care professional well-being is an ongoing journey, analogous to efforts to improve quality and safety.”

Last updated on 9/22/19.

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