Once and for all, we must commit to fixing physician burnout.
Joy of Medicine

Fixing physician burnout: Gratitude isn’t enough

September 23, 2020
We must work as tirelessly to restore the joy of medicine as doctors do.
President and CEO

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two things that are true about the COVID-19 pandemic –

  • Physician practices have been devastated by the loss of revenue due to patients not seeking care and/or the closure of practices altogether.
  • Physicians, as they so very often do, have really stepped up to help patients during the pandemic.

Many have put their lives on the line to care for COVID-19 patients. “Through the end of July, nearly 120,000 doctors, nurses and their medical personnel have contracted the virus in the U.S.,” and, as Kaiser Health News reported in June, “nearly 600 – and counting – U.S. health workers have died of COVID-19.”

Apart from those on the frontlines of caring for COVID-19 patients, there are many physician practices that scrambled, in some cases overnight, to establish telemedicine for their patients.

As but one example that I shared during the Geneia podcast, 9 Ways to Get Patients Back to the Office, my children’s pediatrician, offered virtual well-child exams during the stay-at-home orders in my home state. In short order, Dr. Dolly at Concord Pediatrics, who previously offered night and weekend appointments but not virtual care, figured out how to set up and bill for telemedicine and use a secure system to schedule appointments and manage the care. She even contacted us ahead of time to determine if we were comfortable with virtual care.

2020-09-24-jom-and-getting-patients-back-adetutu-adetona-v1Another fantastic example is Dr. Adetutu Adetona , the owner and president of Lansingburg Family Practice P.C. As she related during the Primary Care Collaborative webinar, The Secret Sauce: How Some Primary Care Practices Are Surviving COVID-19, access and connection are critically important for her nearly 3,000 patients who are primarily Medicaid recipients. So she quickly set up telehealth. For months, her visits with patients were exclusively virtual.

In May, realizing the importance of human connection, Dr. Adetona readied her practice for in-person visits by eliminating the waiting room and prioritizing pediatric patients and those patients at low risk for severe impacts from COVID-19. Today, she sees some patients in the office and others continue to have virtual visits.

Dr. David Nash is another excellent example of a physician who’s risen to the challenge of COVID-19 by helping doctors and hospitals restart regular healthcare. As I wrote in a previous blog,

“[Dr. Nash] cares deeply – about public accountability for outcomes, physician leadership development, quality of care improvement, and more recently about how patients, physicians and the healthcare system recover from the first surge of COVID-19. He’s the kind of person who encourages others to care as deeply as he does."

In fact, it was a Zoom meeting I had with Dr. Nash in April that led Geneia to create a series of resources for physicians, hospitals and payers navigating post-pandemic care:

Let me start by saying thank you to all of the many, many physicians who have given – and will continue to give – tirelessly to their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You stayed at work for us. Our Deepest thanks.

Allow me to also say that as important as gratitude is, it’s not enough.

Once and for all, we must commit to fixing physician burnout. It’s high time we worked just as tirelessly to restore the joy of medicine to the practicing physicians we all rely on to treat us and our loved ones.

Even before the pandemic, physicians reported staggering levels of misery. A Geneia survey found:

84-percentEight in 10 (84 percent) say the quality time doctors are able to spend with patients has decreased in the last 10 years.
77-percentMore than three-quarters (77 percent) know a physician who is likely to quite practicing medicine in the next five years due to burnout.
74-percentNearly three-quarters of surveyed physicians (74 percent) say the challenges of practicing medicine in today's environment have caused them to consider career options outside of clinical practice.
83-percentAn overwhelming majority (83 percent) say they are personally at risk for burnout at some point in their career.

The Geneia survey also revealed seven ways to fight physician burnout, including:

  • Listen. Ensure physicians know they’ve been heard.
  • Offer professional development opportunities, not just EHR training.
  • Carefully consider ways to give physicians the option to have more time with patients who have complex healthcare needs.

For complete survey results, and the rest of the seven solutions to address physician burnout, I invite you to download the comprehensive report.

Download the comprehensive report