Physicians talk: Insights to Increase Engagement and Prevent Burnout

by Gemseek

Burnout is possibly the biggest plague putting the health and career of modern professionals at risk. And while corporate employees may have various exit or relief strategies, professionals in the medical field are prone to underestimating the most stressful aspects of their jobs, moved by their bigger purpose and even bigger responsibilities. It’s no surprise then that 72% of interventional radiologists experience symptoms of burnout.

Is there any way to balance out the most rewarding and the most stressful aspects of a physician’s job and improve general well-being? We interviewed several specialists from different specialties (radiology, neurology, oncology, gynecology, neurosurgery, orthopedics, maxillofacial surgery, etc) to discover the most efficient approaches to keep engagement high and prevent challenging psychological conditions.

Most rewarding aspects of being a physician

In general, physicians are satisfied most when they are able to provide high-quality care to their patients and are welcomed by their gratitude afterwards. Most medical professionals prefer to build a meaningful relationship with their patients, rather than just view them as patient records in a system. However, this requires a resource that physicians often lack: time.

Many also point out the process of identifying the patient diagnosis as a source of positive intellectual challenge. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together to come up with a decision on what the problem is and how to tackle it is rather seen as a positive physician engagement driver.

“To be a good person and a good doctor. This is a great combination of virtues.“ – Neurologist

Responsibility lies with physicians not only when they define the patient diagnosis and treatment plan but also when it comes to training younger specialists. The professional duty of transferring knowledge to the next generation of specialists is perceived as a positive factor in the medical profession. No matter how experienced, physicians also continuously seek to improve and add to their knowledge and skills in the ultimate interest of patients. Engaging in life-long learning activities is seen as an absolute necessity and a factor that significantly contributes to professional development and improved patient outcomes. 

Some more intangible but nevertheless important factors pointed out during the interviews include altruism, i.e. the desire to help others and the joy from a saved life, and pride from being part of the profession and making the world a better place.

Top Physician Engagement Factors
Patient’s successful treatment and gratitude
Diagnosis as an intellectual challenge
Next generation of physicians and the responsibility to transfer knowledge
Professional development and learning from more experienced professionals
Proud of being part of the profession
Altruism: the joy from a saved life

Top physician challenges today

On the other spectrum, the profession comes with some significant challenges that impact burnout and turnover rates in the field.

Increasing workloads generated by an aging population and increasing occasions of hospital readmissions seems to be a top contributor to physician burnout. Limited time spent with patients due to workloads and pressing timeframes negatively affects physicians’ satisfaction at the job. Administrative tasks are taking up more and more of the physician’s time, rendering them unable to dedicate enough time to patients and fully understand their needs. This significantly impacts the patient journey and furthermore, could contribute to mistakes that might have very negative consequences for both the patient and the doctor.

“Medicine is for the bold…but not for the unreasonably bold.“ – Gynecology & Obstetrics

Also, physicians feel that oftentimes they do not receive enough quality support from different clinical and non-clinical vendors. For example, medical technology vendors often do not provide support on the effective use or related issues to best utilize the available technology. Respectively, this eats up even more of the already limited time that physicians have at work.

What’s more, the fast advances in medicine from the last few decades are sometimes seen as a concern rather than a source of inspiration. Although continuous innovation in healthcare is now allowing previously incurable diseases to be treated or stopped from progressing further, it is also viewed by some as a factor generating more efforts on the part of physicians or even perceived as a threat to the future of some specialties.

Worrying about budgetary constraints has become an additional factor of stress, especially for those who have financial decision-making responsibilities. Whether a procedure would get reimbursed or not by insurers and health plans adds to the already high level of stress and responsibilities of physicians. This is especially true in value-based settings where reimbursements are highly dependent on actual patient outcomes.

Top Challenges
Increasing workloads and limited time spent with patients to fully understand their needs
Not enough support from medtech and other non-clinical services vendors to help improve the patient journey and physician workflows
Continuous innovation in medicine and the need to adapt to changes
Administrative burden and time constraints generated by new rules and regulations, e.g. Budgetary constraints and worrying about reimbursements

The Way Forward

So how can these insights be applied to an overall engagement strategy for the staff? Medical institutions need to deploy the proper processes and tools to minimize administrative burdens and foster the relationship between patients and physicians.

“You have the right to be a terrible actor, and writer, but you cannot allow yourself to be a terrible doctor.“ – Oncologist (Orig. M.Konchalovsky)

Some of the possible solutions can be summarized in a few areas:

  • Internal processes and tools improvement – work-life-balance, satisfaction and outcome-driven leadership, change management, efficient communication systems between different hospital units, and patient experience platforms encompassing all patient-facing staff
  • AI-based solutions – albeit still a long way from mass adoption, also have significant potential to bring about time savings and increased diagnostic accuracy. Consequentially, they can free up physicians’ time and allow them to spend more time with patients
  • Continuing medical education education (CME) courses and the appropriate level of trainings – This would in turn cultivate physicians’ motivation to keep learning, increase the competitive advantage of the facility and transfer much valuable knowledge to the younger cohorts of physicians

Last but not least, hospital leaders need to design structures, which regularly and continuously allow their staff to voice needs, concerns and challenges freely. It is the only sustainable way going forward and making sure that management teams are attuned to their staff’s needs and how these evolve over time as a result of the ever-changing healthcare environment.   It goes without saying that all of the examples listed above require significant effort, discipline and time from both the leadership teams as well as physicians themselves. By all means, the strategies to improve staff experience and engagementwill not come easy. Yet, as with any cause worth pursuing, the rewards to be gained overweigh the costs significantly. Even more so, they have the power to reshape the care model for the better, moving from one institution at a time to an integrated industry model.