Burnout in Healthcare: What the Data Reveals

Working in the medical field can be very rewarding, but practitioners face ongoing challenges that can affect them mentally, emotionally and physically. Physicians and nurses on the frontline of care are more suspectable to experiencing burnout in healthcare. The last three years of pandemic-related concerns have exacerbated the situation.

A study from Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that burnout in medicine among U.S. physicians was 62.8 percent in 2021 compared with 38.2 percent in 2020 and 43.9 percent in 2017. Burnout among healthcare providers increases turnover rates and staff shortages, worsening facilities’ struggles with recruiting and retaining staff.

The consequences of physician burnout are a public health issue because they create a lower quality of patient care. Healthcare worker burnout has been associated with higher rates of safety incidents, increased medical errors and lower patient satisfaction. Physicians and nurses experiencing burnout are also at risk for substance abuse, depression and suicide. Burnout in the health profession is a serious, widespread issue with implications for everyone.

Signs of burnout in healthcare

Facility administrators should be aware of the signs of burnout in healthcare workers. Burnout is long-term stress and exhaustion that affects a person’s outlook and physical well-being. Healthcare workers with burnout may feel detached from their job and unproductive because of the endless cycle of tasks and patients. Symptoms of burnout in medicine can include:

  • Feelings of mental and emotional exhaustion that do not improve with time off
  • A negative or cynical attitude toward patients, often caused by compassion fatigue
  • A sense of being unproductive or not providing quality care to patients
  • Fatigue, changes in appetite or sleep habits and lowered immunity

Why do healthcare workers experience burnout?

Working in healthcare is a tough job with high expectations, regulations and patient satisfaction to uphold. Even pre-pandemic, some healthcare workers felt overwhelmed by the long hours, endless administrative tasks and too many patient appointments. Some organizations may lack the structure to support physicians, nurses and other high-level staff when they need additional resources.

During the pandemic, medical staff faced even more stressors that drove up burnout rates. A survey of frontline healthcare workers from the Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post reported that 49 percent of medical professionals felt anxious about going to work during the pandemic.

Of the respondents, 18 percent thought they needed mental healthcare services but did not seek them because of time or money. The survey also found that 26 percent of healthcare workers in hospitals are angry, and 29 percent have considered leaving the medical field.

Physicians and physician extenders are not the only medical professionals experiencing burnout. A 2021 report from HospitalIQ shows that 90 percent of registered nurses are considering leaving the field in the next year. The RNs reported rising patient-to-nurse ratios, citing that they care for five or more patients per shift.

What is the impact of medical burnout?

Everyone feels the impact of burnout in healthcare. Physicians and nurses continue caring for patients while feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and pessimistic. Some may have feelings of moral distress, which is when a healthcare worker cannot make the right decision for a patient because of limited resources. Long-term moral distress can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and anger.

Patients may feel that the quality of their healthcare has decreased. They may have less time with doctors and nurses and feel their diagnosis and care are being delayed. Medical errors can increase, leading to misdiagnosis or the wrong treatment plan for patients. Many patients begin paying additional costs to urgent care facilities or the ER for health problems because their primary care physician has left.

Healthcare facilities feel the impact of burnout with low morale among staff, shortages of workers and higher incidents related to safety. The cost of burnout-related turnover within a health system is estimated to be $9 billion for nurses and $2.6 to $6.3 million for physicians.

Efforts to reduce burnout

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently released a roadmap to help address the needs of doctors. The AMA Recovery for America’s Physicians outlines five key principles, including reducing doctor burnout and the stigma of mental health issues. With this program, the AMA hopes to remove administrative burdens, provide real-world solutions and help physicians rediscover the satisfaction of being in the medical field.

A poll from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) reported that 86 percent of healthcare leaders did not have a plan in place to reduce burnout. The situation will only worsen without strategies to reduce burnout and improve physician wellness.

Healthcare facilities can implement programs to reduce physician burnout and create a culture where medical staff feels empowered to speak up about their challenges. Physicians and nurses should be encouraged to prioritize their time away from work so they can be fully present when dealing with patients and colleagues.

Healthcare staffing resources

Physicians, nurses and other practitioners need support, resources and new solutions to build a thriving healthcare workforce. TinkBird’s nationwide network can connect you with providers seeking permanent medical positions; locum tenens physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners; and travel nurses. Our solutions give facilities the ability to reduce medical staff workloads and combat feelings of burnout in healthcare. Contact TinkBird Healthcare Staffing to see how we can help.

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