Posted in Perspective

Burnout, EHR frustrations may worsen projected physician shortage, study says

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
Burnout, EHR frustrations may worsen projected physician shortage, study says

Technological and bureaucratic burnout is driving physicians away from clinical work and even out of their profession, according to a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

“Nearly one in five U.S. physicians intend to reduce clinical work hours in the next year, and roughly one in 50 intend to leave medicine altogether in the next two  years to pursue a different career,” concludes the study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic and American Medical Association (AMA). “If physicians follow through on these intentions, it could profoundly worsen the projected shortage of U.S. physicians.”

The study, which sought to evaluate the relationship whether burnout, satisfaction with electronic health records (EHRs) and work-life integration impact the career plans of U.S. physicians, is based on surveys of nearly 7,000 physicians conducted in the summer and fall of 2014. Respondents indicated the likelihood of 1) reducing clinical hours in the next 12 months and 2) them leaving their current practice within the next 24 months.

Specifically, 19.8 percent of physicians in clinical practice at the time of the survey said it was likely or definite that they would reduce clinical work hours over the next 12 months, while 26.6 percent said it was likely or definite that they would leave their current practice in the next two years. Nearly 2 percent of physicians in clinical practice said they intend to leave medicine to pursue a different career.

“Burnout, dissatisfaction with work-life integration, and dissatisfaction with the electronic health record were independent predictors of intent to reduce clinical work hours and leave current practice,” researchers said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects a shortage of 45,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025, the study said. Even leaving aside the impact of a physician shortage, researchers argue that the survey results “have potentially profound implications for healthcare organizations.”

“Replacing physicians is costly to institutions, with one recent analysis suggesting costs of $800,000 or more per physician,” the study said. “In addition, turnover is disruptive to patients, staff, and organizational culture. A physician workforce that has one eye on the door may not be optimally engaged and aligned with advancing the institution’s goals.”