July 25, 2017
4 min read

AAFP: Physician burnout cannot be ignored

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H. Clifton Knight
Clif Knight

The AAFP is encouraging all medical professionals experiencing burnout to seek assistance, indicating that the condition is a “real threat” that affects more than 50% of family physicians.

“Clinician burnout leads to more medical errors and less patient satisfaction because their interactions are negatively impacted,” Clif Knight, MD, AAFP senior vice president of education, told Healio Family Medicine in an interview. “It restricts the access to care because physicians are getting out of primary care. It becomes a quality of care issue if people are looking for primary care services and they can’t find physicians to provide those services that negatively affects their health. It’s about the physicians but more importantly it’s about patient health outcomes.”

“It’s kind of analogous to being on a plane,” he continued. “When I get on a plane, I’m going to trust that the pilot is well-rested and there is nothing else that’s going to impact their judgment. I’m also going to trust that they focus on the job at hand or any personal stressors, things that they’re dealing with, and I’m literally trusting my life to that pilot. Physicians are in the same situation, in that their patients trust that their physician is going to be able to focus on what they need to, to be able to at the top of their game.”

The AAFP recognizes that this high level of burnout is a symptom of systemic problems and they strongly advocate for system improvements to relieve multiple administrative burdens. In the meantime, to help health care professionals experiencing burnout improve their well-being, the Academy recently launched its Physicians Health First Initiative, which Knight said consists of making members aware of a variety of resources including articles that have already been published in its journal Family Practice Management. Resources also include workshops on the topic at its upcoming annual meeting in September, and a national conference dedicated exclusively to physician health and well-being, scheduled for April 2018.

AAFP is among the many medical societies and researchers looking into ways to help clinicians cope with burnout. As a courtesy to its readers, Healio Family Medicine provides a collection of articles it has recently published that are connected to this topic.

Nine strategies to reverse physician burnout

Building upon a decade of research on the rise and cost of physician burnout, researchers at the Mayo Clinic proposed nine strategies that health care organizations can implement to reverse the trend, limit the risk and promote physician well-being, according to a news release.


“Research has shown that more than half of U.S. physicians are experiencing symptoms of burnout, and the rate is increasing,” Tait Shanafelt, MD, director of Mayo Clinic’s Program on Physician Well-being, said in the release. “Unfortunately, many organizations see burnout as a personal problem to be addressed by the individual physician. It is clear, however, that burnout is a system issue, and addressing it is the shared responsibility of both the individuals and health care organizations.”

Read more.

Video: Strategies for increasing physician wellness

SAN DIEGO — Understanding the factors known to predict physician burnout and implementing interventions can help prevent and reduce the condition, which affects more than half of physicians, according to a presenter at this year’s ACP Internal Medicine Meeting.

Addressing four major factors, including control over the workplace, chaos and disorganization, time pressure, and reward and recognition, increases practice satisfaction and sustainability and physician wellness, Eileen Barrett, MD, MPH, of the University of New Mexico Hospital, said.

Watch video.

BLOG: Avoiding burnout is your choice

The burnout prevalence rates continue to increase with no apparent end to this disturbing trend. One recent study cited the prevalence of emotional exhaustion amongst orthopedic surgeons approached 60%.

The onset of burnout is not inevitable. Emotional depletion can be sidestepped. The answer lies in the power of decision. We have the power to choose what we direct our attention to and in these choices, lay our growth and happiness or lack thereof.

Read more.

Simple strategies can lessen, eliminate physician burnout

Acknowledging stress, accepting help and addressing fatigue are useful strategies for clinicians facing burnout, according to recommendations published in Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America.

“Burnout is physical or mental collapse that is caused by overwork or stress and all physicians are at risk,” Roger P. Smith, MD, assistant dean for graduate medical education and professor in the department of integrated medical science at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, said in a press release. “Professional burnout is not new, but what is new is the wider recognition of the alarming rates of burnout. Physicians in general have burnout rates that are twice the rate of working adults.”

Read more.

VIDEO: Incorporating mindfulness into medical practice


SAN DIEGO — By using mindfulness themselves, clinicians and mental health professionals can establish a compassionate attitude, increase empathy for patients, improve their ability to serve patients and decrease burnout, according to Seema Desai, MD, of NYU School of Medicine.

In this video, Desai illustrates ways in which the clinician or trainee can integrate mindfulness into their psychiatric practice.

“The clinician practicing mindfulness themselves and being familiar with these practices can benefit the clinician and patient,” Desai told Healio.com.

Watch video.

AMA revisits issue of physician burnout

On the final day of its annual meeting, AMA delegates adopted a new policy designed to improve medical student and physician access to mental health care, according to a press release.

“We are concerned that many physicians and physicians-in-training are dealing with burnout, depression and even suicidal thoughts, and we find it especially concerning that physicians have a higher rate of suicide than the general population,” AMA board member Omar Z. Maniya, MD, said in the release. “We are committed to supporting physicians throughout their career journey to ensure they have more meaningful and rewarding professional experiences and provide the best possible care to their patients.”

Read more.