Physician burnout: No one cares — but you should
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Have you read the articles over the last several months about physician burnout and fatigue? I’ll admit that as someone in the physician fishbowl, I’m on the inside and hear a lot about physician burnout that most of the public may not see. But as you can read here, here, here and here, doctors are upset and having significant emotional distress because of their chosen field.
The causes of physician burnout can be seen in a Medscape survey from this spring. The most common causes are, not surprisingly, too much paperwork and long hours. But there’s a perception by the public that doctors make a lot of money and the trade-off of making lots of money is working hard. And while doctors will say they don’t make as much as they used to, it’s still more than most Americans make.
Sure you can point out that doctors are making life and death decisions and dealing with life-related issues that most people don’t make on a daily, monthly or even a yearly basis, but even when you explain their burnout in that context, there’s not much sympathy from the public.
Consider this: Whenever you hear a famous actor complaining about the long hours in the studio, doing retake after retake, is there anyone among us who has the slightest bit of sympathy for them? Of course not. And that’s how most people feel about doctors complaining of burnout.
But there’s a significant difference between those two examples. Lack of sympathy toward the complaining famous actor has no effect on our lives, whereas the burned-out physician with fatigue and the resulting lack of focus can most certainly affect us.
I understand a lack of sympathy towards “rich doctors” being overworked, but we all need to be sympathetic because it affects all of us. Fatigue resulting from running a medical office practice (which is no different than running a business) and excessive paperwork is driving more doctors out of private practice and into employed positions where the hospital that "owns" them makes the business decisions. Maybe that will help with fatigue but that puts ever-increasing layers of bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.
Assuming that we can’t change the causes of physician fatigue, here are some things you can do to keep your physician focused on your care. The following suggestions may seem silly at first, but the overarching goal is to break the monotony for your doctor. If every patient is reduced to a number, the doctor can become unfocused. So break the monotony and here’s how.
How to break the monotony brought on by physician burnout
First, bring at least one, but no more than two family members to the office visit with you. By having multiple people hear what the doctor is saying, more information will be retained. Also, when multiple family members are present (again, no more than two) during the office visit, the doctor will feel more accountable for what he/she is saying since more eyes and ears are trained on what's being said. Thus, the doctor will start providing explanations that everyone in the room can understand.
Secondly, introduce yourself when the doctor comes in the room and flatter him. Tell him that you've heard good things about him and that you’re really happy you got to see him. Odd I know, but flattery gets you everything, especially with a doctor.
Finally, offer the doctor a stick of gum or even a Tic Tac. It will catch her off guard that her patient is offering her a sort of peace offering, something that will make her feel as though you’re identifying with her hectic schedule and providing some temporary relief.
Again, I recognize that physician burnout is a problem that can’t be fixed with these simple suggestions, but the aim here is to break the monotony, if only temporarily, so the doctor is able to focus on your concerns. You may think these ideas are ridiculous, but to get the care you need, this seems like an easy way to ensure it.
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