Medicine is the most noble of professions. Providers enter healthcare with the greatest of intentions—to keep people healthy, to save lives, to serve as a beacon of hope when patients have lost theirs. But this job, while incredibly fulfilling, does not come without drawbacks.
If you’re a healthcare provider and you have not experienced burnout at one time or another, you’re sadly in the minority. The results of a recent Medscape survey showed that 53% of all physicians have dealt with burnout, up from 46% in 2015 and 39.8% in 2013.
By specialty, emergency medicine had the highest rate of burnout (65%) followed by internal medicine (60%). Family medicine came in at a 57% burnout rate.
Provider burnout presents a variety of symptoms, most commonly:
The rising prevalence of burnout has wide-ranging implications on patient safety and access to care. Burned out providers tend to retire early or change career paths, which not only affects patient access and continuity of care but worsens the escalating physician shortage crisis. Some data estimate the US can expect a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Exhaustion and indifference also increase the risk of mistakes. A recent study found that providers who suffered burnout were twice as likely to have made a medical error in the previous three months.
Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t just plague physicians. All healthcare workers face mounting demands and little downtime, making them just as vulnerable. It’s not unusual for burnout to have a trickle-down effect in a practice, starting with the physician and eventually hitting nurses, physician assistants, and even staff members like office managers.
Many of the pressures in healthcare that contribute to burnout can be attributed to the fee-for-service payment model, in which providers’ revenue is dependent on the volume of patients they treat.
In fact, this revenue model is a major underlying factor for what most providers claim to be the top causes of burnout:
What do providers wish for in order to lessen burnout? According to the same Medscape survey:
Shifting to value-based care (VBC) is a smart first step to alleviating burnout. Providers who do often find that the guiding principles of VBC help mitigate many of the issues that lead to provider burnout.
Most notably, VBC allows providers to get back to the basics of medicine and why they chose this profession in the first place: the ability to make a real difference in patients’ lives.
“Value-based care centers on disease prevention and holistic care, which aligns with the goals and values of most providers, especially those in primary care,” says Vik Bakhru, MD, MBA, practicing physician and CEO of Innovista Health. “When given the opportunity to practice medicine in its purest form, physicians thrive and their risk of burnout due to administrative and other burdens goes down.”
Because VBC prioritizes quality of care over quantity of patients seen, providers are able to devote more time to each patient, offering much more meaningful, comprehensive care. They’re able to more deeply connect with patients and learn not just about their physical health but mental, emotional, and lifestyle challenges that influence their wellbeing and choices. All that knowledge strengthens the provider/patient bond and personalizes the healthcare experience, which increases satisfaction all around.
“Value-based care allows us to truly see the positive care that we are providing and helps us focus on metrics outside of number of patients seen in a day,” says Pam Audish, clinical nurse and Vice President of Medical Management at Innovista Health. “We can measure the outcome of our work not just by the fact that we saw patients, but that we made a difference in their health.”
Lighter patient load leads to more manageable work schedules and better work/life balance for everyone in the practice. And focusing on meeting quality metrics—a key component of VBC—results in higher compensation for physicians.
VBC also encourages practice transformation, which allows for better workflows and delegation of tasks so that everyone in the office can feel less overwhelmed.
“Transformation encourages expanding the healthcare team within the office so that the provider can spread the work amongst the team, and the team works efficiently at the right level of care per staff member,” Audish explains.
Of course, technology plays a role in this type of practice transformation—but physicians pinpoint technology such as EHRs as a big source of burnout. Even though EHRs are meant to improve quality and coordination of care, reduce errors, and streamline workflows by cutting down on paperwork, many physicians still find them to be cumbersome and time consuming. Documentation requirements have grown over the years, forcing providers to spend a lot more time in EHRs than they would like.
To be fair, technology can be challenging to implement and learn. But in a VBC landscape, the goal is to leverage technology to make the job easier and actually prevent burnout.
Used properly, technology bridges the gap between in-person and virtual care, creates highly coordinated care across clinicals, fosters seamless care coordination across time in an asynchronous manner, collects and uses data to improve diagnoses and treatment plans, and allows accessibility between the patient and care team.
“At Innovista, we help practices integrate technology in a more efficient way. We teach the entire office staff how to work within these systems so they can use them to their advantage versus allowing the technologies to overwhelm and weigh them down,” says Audish.
Finally, VBC inspires physicians to collaborate, identify and tackle challenges, and lean on each other for personal and professional support. By forming ACO partnerships, providers commit to taking the VBC journey together. They are measured against the same benchmarks and join forces to achieve success as a team. To a stressed and burned-out provider, this type of support can be invaluable.
These additional tips can help address some of the biggest causes of burnout.
Burnout is a real problem, and finding ways to prevent it is crucial to protecting providers, patients, and the healthcare system as a whole. Fortunately, there are solutions that can help.
“There is hope,” says Bakhru. “Burnout does not have to be an absolute for people who choose to devote their lives to medicine. There are ways to deal with it—some simple, others more multifaceted. But overall, value-based care may be the best and most sustainable long-term solution, allowing healthcare providers to get back to practicing medicine the way they always envisioned they would when they first started their careers.”