3 things to know about physician burnout — Potential solutions, costs & more

From the World Health Organization updating its definition of workplace burnout to the cost implications of burnout on the healthcare system, here are three things to know about physician burnout:

1. The World Health Organization updated the definition of workplace burnout in the ICD-11 as an occupational phenomenon, characterizing it in three dimensions. The WHO defines burnout as a syndrome stemming from chronic workplace stress that has not been managed successfully.

The three aspects of workplace burnout include increased mental distance from one's job, reduced professional efficacy and feelings of exhaustion. Negativism and cynicism are also included in the WHO's definition of burnout. Burnout, the WHO said, only refers to phenomena in the occupational context, and should not be applied to describe experiences in other life areas.

2. Turnover and fewer clinical hours stemming from physician burnout is costing the U.S. healthcare system approximately $4.6 billion, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The $4.6 billion total breaks down to a loss of $7,600 per physician each year at the organizational level due to burnout. Researchers attributed that loss to physicians reducing clinical hours and leaving organizations, resulting in turnover.

3. Gastroenterologists are more prone to burnout than other physicians, according to Joseph C. Anderson, MD, of the Hanover, N.H.-based Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine. Dr. Anderson and Carol A. Burke, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic spoke at the American Gastroenterological Association's symposium on physician burnout earlier in May.

Gastroenterologists should keep in mind that elevated levels of stress can lead to other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and depression, Dr. Burke said. Burnout also can affect patient care through decreased productivity and disengagement, she said. Team-based care models that allow physicians to focus more on clinical work rather than administrative work is effective in reducing burnout, Dr. Anderson said.

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