What is causing physician burnout?

The assumption has been that the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the root of recent upticks in physician burnout.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a cause of stress for the whole economy, physicians are saying it has not been the cause of their burnout.

According to a news release, a survey of physicians in June and July of this year found that physicians are less stressed by the pandemic than they are about their employers. The results of the survey are detailed in a new white paper from Jackson Physician Search and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) released at the MGMA Medical Practice Excellence Leaders Conference.

The white paper shows physicians reporting their satisfaction with their current employer at an average of 5.5 out of a 10-point scale. The respondents note that this is due to disconnects that could be solved in part by better communication.

“Successful business decisions begin by recognizing threats and opportunities, and the pandemic exposed many for healthcare organizations, so we’ve seen a rapid and sustained increase in the number of physicians actively looking for new jobs,” Tony Stajduhar, president of Jackson Physician Search, says in the release. “But what we’re learning is that post-COVID business recovery actually requires making the experience of being a doctor better for physicians. Recognizing the all-consuming nature of practicing medicine and considering physicians as partners versus employees are where it starts.”

The prevalence of burnout is clear with 61% of physicians and 68%confirming that clinicians are experiencing burnout. A further 62% of physicians report that their burnout is caused by their current employer and only 25% attribute it to COVID-19 related stress. Meanwhile only 14% of administrators recognize their role in physician burnout and 37% attribute the burnout to COVID-19, according to the white paper.

“Administrators point to many different conditions that would address physician burnout, like having better clinical support, boosting compensation and lowering administrative burdens,” Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, CEO of MGMA, says in the release. “However, far and away, two-way communication with management and administrators is cited by physicians as the most important factor in keeping them satisfied in their current position.”

The white paper also highlights the need for physician groups to plan for succession in light of the chronic physician shortage. Despite this, the survey found that 67% of administrators do not have a succession plan and only 16 percent do.

This article was initially published by our sister publication Medical Economics.