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Beating Clinician Burnout

News  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   April 01, 2017

Clinician burnout is pervasive in the healthcare industry, yet many healthcare leaders are unsure of how to solve the issue. If it is left unaddressed, healthcare organizations may experience quality, safety, and retention problems.

Signs of clinician burnout—a response to chronic workplace stressors—have become a reality in the healthcare industry.

"It's somewhere between 30% and 50% nationally in physicians and it is rising," says Mark Linzer, MD, FACP, director of the division of general internal medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, which includes a 484-staffed-bed safety-net hospital, downtown clinics, and a system of neighborhood clinics. "The data are pretty compelling depending on which instrument you use for measuring it."

A study published in the December 2015 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found just that. When researchers surveyed 6,880 physicians in 2014, 54.4% of them reported having at least one of the three components of burnout on the Maslach Burnout Inventory—emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy—compared to 45.5% in 2011.

"With 50% of people experiencing at least one component of burnout nationally, you're looking at problems with morale and turnover. There are risks to patient safety, quality, and patient satisfaction, not necessarily from the burned-out physician, but from the adverse work conditions that led to the burnout," Linzer says.

The prevalence of burnout in healthcare should be cause for concern, not only for the clinicians experiencing it but for healthcare executives as well. Burnout is not, as many believe, a failing of an individual. Rather, it's a sign that something is amiss within an organization, and that systemic dysfunction can prevent an organization from achieving the desired outcomes of today's value-based care efforts.

To have success in the current healthcare environment, healthcare leaders need to do more than simply acknowledge that burnout exists. They need to uncover the root causes of burnout at their organizations and implement systemwide changes to fix it.

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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