New Study: Physician Burnout Rate Dropped in 2017

Feb. 22, 2019
Physicians adjusting to the new healthcare and health IT environment could explain the improvement, researchers theorize

While recent research shows the burnout rate among U.S. physicians has dropped in 2017, the American Medical Association (AMA) still urges that more needs to be done, calling on healthcare leaders to drive that change.

A study recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, conducted by researchers from the AMA, the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University School of Medicine found 44 percent of U.S. physicians exhibited at least one symptom of burnout in 2017, compared with 54 percent in 2014 and 46 percent in 2011. In comparison, the overall prevalence of burnout among U.S. workers was 28. percent in 2017, similar to levels found in 2014 (28 percent) and 2011 (29 percent).

Nonetheless, AMA President Barbara L. McAneny, M.D., noted in a statement, “The tide has not yet turned on the physician burnout crisis. Despite improvements in the last three years, burnout levels remain much higher among physicians than other U.S. workers, a gap inflamed as the bureaucracy of modern medicine interferes with patient care and inflicts a toll on the well-being of physicians. There is a strong economic case for the health system to continue a comprehensive strategy to reduce the work-induced syndrome of burnout and caregiver fatigue among physicians. An energized, engaged, and resilient physician workforce is essential to achieving national health goals.”

The study’s researchers measured burnout amongst more than 5,000 responding U.S. physicians using the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization scales of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a questionnaire that’s considered the criterion standard tool for measuring burnout.

When discussing what has caused the change in burnout levels over time, the researchers concluded, “It is possible that 2014 was a particularly challenging time because of consolidation of hospitals and medical groups, a number of new regulatory factors, increasing EHR penetration, and increased administrative burden. The situation may be improving as physicians and organizations adapt to the new practice environment.”

They added, “It is also possible that the prevalence of burnout improved due to burned out physicians leaving the workforce or reducing clinical effort. It should be noted, however, that many large-scale efforts have been initiated at the national level to address this issue.”

To this point, the AMA pointed to various initiatives that the association is a part of designed around reducing physician burden. One such project is the recently launched collaboration between the AMA and MedStar Health that aims to push for changes to address the known risks to patient safety and clinician burnout that stem from poor EHR usability.