Sian Claire Owen, Cardio Debate medical journalist

Physician Burnout has long been discussed in the medical literature and more recently in the mainstream media. Today it is well recognised as a condition that is not only detrimental for the physicians but also puts patients at risk.

Physician Burnout has been described by Dike Dummond, author of The Happy MD blog, as different from every day stress, and is something that “begins when you are not able to recharge your batteries between call nights or days in the office.” [1] It can then result in physicians developing a negative attitude towards their patients, and a reduced sense of satisfaction in their work.

The 2016 Medscape Lifestyle Report [2] – which surveyed 15,800 physicians over 25 specialties – reports that levels of physician burnout in the US have reached ‘critical levels’, with too much administration, too many working hours and increasing computerisation being the main causative factors.

Increasing administrative duties, the pressures of an NHS in crisis (in the UK at least) and new ‘24/7’ technologies that blur the line between professional and personal time, have created a perfect storm for this rising epidemic.

An interview in the New England Journal of Medicine argues that Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) may even be a leading causative factor for physician burnout. [3] As Steve Strongwater, CEO of Atrius Health, based in the US, says: “About 80% of physician burnout is really due to workflow issues […] electronic records have added work.” He adds: “They [physicians] are filling out forms that at one time would have been triaged to a medical or health assistant.”

There are many efforts geared towards tackling this dangerous epidemic. A recent study published in The Lancet identified both individual and systemic solutions that can deal effectively with physician burnout. [4]

This systemic review and meta-analysis of studies designed to identify and reduce physician burnout – 15 randomised trials and 37 cohort studies –“indicates that both individual-focused and structural or organisational strategies can result in clinically meaningful reductions in burnout among physicians.” [4] Individual-focused activities include mindfulness and small discussion groups, which enable physicians to recognise the early signs on burnout and act accordingly.

Furthermore, a recent blog published in Medical Economics describes why Physician Burnout happens, and touches on what doctors can do to reduce its impact, [5] including bringing in external help for burdensome administrative tasks and technological assistance.

However, Cardio Debate editor and founder Professor Juan Carlos Kaski previously wrote that although experts have proposed potentially useful measures to reduce the proportion of physicians feeling burned out, “The important issue is that these measures need to be assessed objectively and if deemed useful put in place without delay, making them accessible to as many people as possible.”

“Failing to do so would have catastrophic consequences for the medical workforce, the health systems and, ultimately and of utmost importance, for patients. This is an epidemic that needs to be tackled urgently and efficiently.”