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Is Doctors’ Stress and Burn-Out Something Patients Should Care About? Yes!

Doctors’ Stress Is Impacting Patient Care

The Physicians Foundation just published the results of a 2016 nationwide survey which sought to determine what doctors have to say about the state of the medical profession, including doctors’ stress.

A nationwide survey, completed by over 17,200 doctors, shows that doctors have low morale and high stress. Doctors struggle to provide patients with reasonable access to care, and to adapt to changing delivery and payment models. It’s important to understand how doctor stress can impact your care.

man holding head: doctors' stressMost doctors are stressed or burned-out.

  • 54% rate their morale as somewhat or very negative
  • 49% often or always experience feelings of burn-out

Doctors aren’t excited about the future of medicine as a career.

  • Only 37% describe their feelings about the future of the medical profession as positive
  • 28% would not choose to be doctors if they had a career “do over”
  • 49% would not recommend medicine as a career for their children or young people

Many doctors struggle to find enough time for patients.

  • Only 14% report that they generally have the time they need to provide patients with the highest standards of care
  • 72% report that external factors, such as 3rd party authorizations treatment protocols and EHRs, significantly detract from the quality of care they are able to provide

Most doctors see a lot of patients each day.

  • 17% see 0-10/day
  • 39% see 11-20/day
  • 28% see 21-30/day
  • 9% see 31-40/day

Doctors are spending many hours each week on non-clinical (paperwork, etc) tasks.

doctor working on computer: doctors' stressThe hours spent each week on non-clinical work:

  • 25% – 0-5 hours
  • 31% – 6-10 hours
  • 18% – 11-15 hours
  • 12% – 16-20 hours

Most doctors don’t love EHRs (electronic health records).

  • Only 11% say EHRs improve patient interaction; 60% report EHRs have detracted from patient interaction
  • 29% report EHRs have improved quality of care; 33% report EHRs have reduced their quality of care

It’s going to get harder and harder to find doctors for our care!

  • 80% are overextended or at capacity, with no time for new patients
  • 48% plan to decrease their hours, retire, take a non-clinical job, switch to concierge medicine, or take other steps that would limit patient access to their practices

What doctors like most about their jobs:

  • 71% say their patient relationships are the most satisfying part of their work

What doctors dislike most about their jobs:

  • 58% say “regulatory/paperwork burdens” is the least satisfying aspect

The results were not consistent across all demographics.

It’s important to point out that the doctors’ perspectives regarding the current medical practice environment varied across demographic categories:

  • Those who were more positive:
    • younger doctors
    • female doctors
    • primary care doctors
    • doctors employed by hospitals and other healthcare organizations
  • Those who expressed doubts on the future of healthcare and suspect that most doctors have low morale:
    • older doctors
    • male doctors
    • medical specialists
    • doctors who own practices

What does this mean for patients?

female doctor speaking with female patient: doctors' stressIt’s important to be aware that doctors, as a group, are stressed, overworked and burned-out. This can impact not only the pleasantness of your interactions, but it can decrease the quality of the care you receive.

It’s clear that most of us will be impacted by doctors’ struggles to provide quality care in time-limited appointment slots. Follow these steps to get the most out of your time-limited medical appointments:

  1. Prepare for appointments! Write down your “story” and your questions before your appointment. Make sure you relate all of this to your doctor – even if he/she is rushing you.
  2. Take careful notes. Use a notebook to keep track of signs, symptoms and questions at home, and to record all important information at medical appointments.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to repeat or rephrase something if you don’t understand. Don’t give up until you feel comfortable in your knowledge.
  4. If something doesn’t seem right – speak up! Be the polite, squeaky wheel.
  5. Pay close attention to medication management – be sure you understand why, how and when to take each medication.
  6. Be sure each doctor on your team has a complete list of all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications.
  7. Keep your medical records (test results and reports, clinical trial information, etc) organized and bring them with you to every medical appointment.

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