Physician Burnout: It’s an Epidemic, But You Can Do Something About It

Dr. Flora courtesy of the Cincinnati Business Courier

Dr. Doug Flora, a successful oncologist, husband and father, describes his life as “financially successful, but time-bankrupt.”

For 19 years his personal life, needs and responsibilities have taken a backseat to patients. Hence, his modus operandi: “Ignore everything but work.”

“I’m at an 80-hour-a-week job that I have to fit into 60 hours, so that’s my traditional default,” he said.

Unfortunately, Dr. Flora’s story isn’t unique. He’s one of the millions of physicians struggling to achieve a balance between work and life.

Physician Burnout: The Current Landscape

Burnout affects more than half of practicing physicians, and that number is on the rise. Just last month Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health deemed physician burnout a public health crisis that’s linked to a reduction in quality of care and an increase in medical errors, resulting in less favorable outcomes for patients overall.

Dr. Flora relayed that even simple things like buying a birthday present for his wife have proven to be overwhelming.

“I deeply love my wife, but I don’t have time to get her the gift she deserves,” Dr. Flora said. “My choice is to see the dying cancer patient or get the gift for my wife, and my wife always loses.”

Physicians, working within the confines of a stressed healthcare system, must consistently choose between their patients’ lives, administrative requirements and the personal, resulting in a steady degradation of their quality of life.

Dr. Simon Talbot and Dr. Wendy Dean claim physicians aren’t burning out, they’re actually suffering from “moral injury.” An unintended result of an increasingly business-oriented and profit-driven health care environment in which physicians are committed to competing allegiances that often undermine their patients’ best interests.

“Physicians are smart, tough, durable, resourceful people. If there was a way to MacGyver themselves out of this situation by working harder, smarter, or differently, they would have done it already.“

– Talbot and Dean

Helping Physicians Take Their Personal Lives Back

Healthcare organizations facing this national epidemic doubt their ability to effect change. During a time of limited resources and competing priorities, what is the business case to address physician burnout? Moreover, if an organization decides to take up this mantle do they have the financial resources to create meaningful change?

Dr. Flora seems to think so. Last year his organization incorporated a new benefit, physician concierge services, at a fraction of the cost of turnover – which is primarily driven by burnout.

This year Dr. Flora’s wife finally received the gift she deserves!

“Veronica, our concierge, spent at least half of the day sourcing everything and putting it all together. She went above and beyond. Every detail was taken care of,” Dr. Flora said.

Dr. Flora described the BEST concierge team as a “close colleague that is imminently available to make my life manageable.”

It’s a whole new world for Dr. Flora since the BEST team arrived.

“In my new life I have a concierge to take care of the things I used to sacrifice in my personal life, and my life is better for it.”