The rate of burnout among healthcare providers has been increasing in recent years. According to the AMA Wire, the rate of burnout among U.S. physicians ranged from 40 to 60 percent in 2017. Emergency room physicians reported the highest burnout rate, followed by ob-gyns, family physicians and internists. The specialty with the most severe burnout was urology, followed closely by ER medicine.
More importantly, the rate of burnout increased for every specialty surveyed between 2013 and 2017, according to the 2017 Medscape Lifestyle Report.
What Drives Burnout?
When asked about the key issues that contributed to burnout, more than 14,000 physicians cited the following four areas:
- Too many bureaucratic tasks
- Too many hours spent at work
- Feeling like a “cog in the wheel”
- Increased computerization of practice
Physicians feel distanced from the reasons they chose to practice medicine; overworked and undervalued. Or as Tait Shanafelt, M.D., a physician-burnout researcher at Mayo Clinic said at a recent NEJM Catalyst Event,
“Today’s medical practice environment is destroying the altruism and commitment of our physicians. We need to stop blaming individuals and treat physician burnout as a system issue…If it affects half of our physicians, it indirectly affects half of our patients.”
Emotional and physical exhaustion also contribute directly to compassion fatigue, a state of emotional exhaustion and diminished empathy brought on by constant exposure to suffering and the endless demands of patient care.
The Value of Empathy
Empathy is crucial to effective physician-patient communication. Physicians who are empathetic understand the patient’s perspective, sympathize with their suffering, and actively seek to understand their values and goals. In the clinical setting, this translates into more productive discussions around expected outcomes, quality of life issues and goals of care.
More effective communication between physicians and patients has also been shown to reduce physician burnout and enhance their quality of life. Thus, it would follow that providing physicians with tools to enhance empathy would contribute to the ultimate goal of providing effective, compassionate, patient care.
Mindfulness as an Antidote to Burnout
Mindfulness meditation is a contemplative practice based on the 2,500-year old Buddhist tradition of Vipassana meditation. It involves paying attention to thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental, accepting and compassionate way. The University of California Center for Mindfulness further explains mindfulness practice as a:
“…non-judgmental, open-hearted, friendly, and inviting of whatever arises in awareness. It is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, individuals can live more fully and less on ‘automatic pilot,’ thus, being more present for their own lives.”
One of the most common forms of mindfulness training is mindfulness based stress reduction, or MBSR. First implemented by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, the 8-week program has demonstrated remarkable efficacy in the reduction of a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including chronic pain and anxiety/panic attack. It has also been shown to improve psychological resilience and feelings of self-efficacy, both of which are useful in combating burnout and compassion fatigue.
Mindfulness and Communication
In a recently published literature review in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers from the Department of Social Psychology and Methodology of the Behavioral Sciences, University of the Basque Country in Leioa, looked at the value of several contemplative practices in lessening physician burnout rates. In a wide variety of studies, mindfulness based interventions, including MBSR and other related modalities, correlated with decreased burnout rates, increased empathy, and an increased ability to build rapport. And in at least one study, greater mindfulness among physicians was associated with more patient-centered communication, greater rapport between caregivers and patients and more in-depth discussions of psychosocial concerns. This correlated with greater patient satisfaction with their interactions with physicians and the overall quality of care.
The practice of mindfulness and mindfulness based-stress reduction have been shown to be effective tools in the fight against burnout and compassion fatigue. Although there are many systems issues that also need to be addressed, the utilization of these simple-to-learn techniques may prove valuable in helping healthcare providers and their patients communicate more effectively. In turn, better communication may help physicians feel more connected to their patients and more satisfied and engaged with their work.
About Carmoon, Ltd.
The Carmoon Group is an experienced insurance broker based in Hicksville, New York. We offer a wide array of insurance solutions for healthcare providers, including physicians, clinics and ambulatory surgical centers across the United States. Call us today to schedule an appointment for your insurance review. Or if you’re too busy to call, just reach out online and we’ll get back to you right away.