At the beginning of the pandemic, physicians and healthcare workers were lauded as heroes. Now, nearly two years later, physicians are still working on the front lines and are exhausted. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on physicians’ mental wellbeing, but as we will explore, this issue of physician burnout has been simmering under the radar for quite some time.
The Current State of Physician Wellbeing in the U.S.
Last June, the Associate of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released data projecting an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. This shortage impacts physicians of all types, from specialists to primary care physicians, equally. It also underscores the supply and demand issue in the medical field. Between 2019 and 2034 the U.S. population is projected to grow by 10.6% and there is a projected 42.4% increase in those aged 65 and above (source).
To put it bluntly: there simply aren’t enough physicians to meet the demand of the U.S. population.
This means that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed substantial demands on an already overstretched, understaffed, and under-resourced health system. In addition, they’ve been asked to balance their personal risk with patient duty and isolate from their families after the inevitable exposure to the virus. This problem isn’t just an American problem either. A survey from the UK showed that 54% physicians reported morale as low or very low. All these converging factors means that COVID-19 has tested doctors and health-care workers to the limit, and it’s taken a considerable toll on their health and wellbeing.
Problems Before COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the physician burnout problem to the forefront, but according to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021, 79% of respondents say their burnout started before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research shows that some of the primary sources of stress for physicians included:
- Loss of autonomy: Less control of when to see patients, how long to spend with them, questions to ask, tests to perform and when they can see them next
- Stricter regulations: Rules and limitations from outside organizations such as the government and insurance companies on how physicians do their jobs
- Increased data collection: A growing focus on patient data collection results in doctors spending more time that ever on clerical work.
How to Support Physicians
At OPTIVIO we believe that a person’s profession should not be a cause of chronic stress. And while healthcare organizations have many competing priorities, physician wellbeing needs to be near the top of the list in order to provide high quality patient care.
To tackle the physician burnout problem, healthcare organizations need a two-pronged approach to stress management:
- The ability to measure employee stress levels and tie it to contextual data to understand top stressors so they can make informed decisions for change.
- Tools and training to help physicians increase their resiliency and better manage stress.
Taking this two-prong approach arms physicians with strategies to manage their stress, while providing their employers with valuable insights into what large-scale changes can be made to have the best chance of improving physician wellbeing.
If you’re interested in learning more about this two-prong approach to stress management, we encourage you to join the OPTIVIO waitlist.
Join the OPTIVIO Waitlist