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Doc Burnout and Your Healthcare

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

A new report by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) provides some alarming information that should concern every single person who goes to a doctor or a hospital in the United States of America.

A combination of cumbersome and sometimes seemingly idiotic rules and payment procedures, plus staff shortages, plus the pressure to enter the age of electronic medical records is nearly sending many of those dedicated professionals who care for us to the looney bin.

"Studies estimate that between 35 percent and 54 percent of U.S. nurses and physicians have substantial symptoms of burnout, and the range for medical students and residents is between 45 percent and 60 percent. There are indications that burnout is a problem among all clinical disciplines and across care settings," the report states.

"The high rates of burnout reported among U.S. clinicians and learners is a strong signal that the nation’s health care system is failing to achieve its aims for system-wide improvement," the report added.

"Improving the U.S. health care system to achieve the goals of better care, improved population health, and lower costs depends in large part on a workforce that is functioning at its highest level. Positive, healthy work and learning environments facilitate and support the professional well-being that is so essential to the therapeutic alliance among clinicians, patients, and families and the delivery of high-quality care."

This should concern every single person who visits a health care facility, so that means every single one of us.

Say you are a clerk in a store. Your boss is a jerk. You are required to pull double shifts, fill in for workers who don't show up, and every day you deal with customers who can be downright rude and nasty. You go home exhausted and your spouse is upset; the kids are running around crazily and the house is a mess.

"What's the use?" you think to yourself. "What am I doing? Why do I have to put up with this?" You go to bed exhausted, and it starts all over again the next day.

Well, that's not a happy scenario, but your work and your tiredness and your negative attitude is only affecting the store where you work, those pain-in-the-butt customers, your wife and your kids. That's not good, but you're not in danger of making a mistake that might make someone really sick or even kill them.

But that's the way it is for healthcare professionals. They are responsible for diagnosing and treating our illnesses. Sometimes what they do and how they respond is a matter of life and death.

But what if they are so tired on the job, feeling so rotten about their work environment, so discouraged about their worth and value that they misdiagnose you, prescribe the wrong medication, or, heaven forbid, operate on your left foot when it is the right one that's broken?

According to this study by the NAM, that's exactly how it is for between 35 and 54 percent of nurses and physicians and between 45 and 60 percent of medical students and residents. That is not a pretty picture.

In fact, get this, the suicide rate among physicians is TWICE that of the overall population. That's after all those years of medical school, the six figure debt for education, the euphoria that once filled them when they first heard themselves called "Doctor" or "Nurse."

Here's more from that report:

Mounting system pressures have contributed to an imbalance in which the demands of the clinician’s job are greater than the resources available to complete the job effectively. This job demand–job resource imbalance is intensified by the increasing push for performance improvement, technology that hinders rather than supports patient care, changing professional and societal expectations, and policies that are insufficiently aligned with professional values or the goal of better patient care. Adding to these health system pressures is an explosive increase in medical data and a growing demand for health care as the U.S. population ages and many disciplines experience workforce shortages. Overwhelmingjob demands and insufficient job resources cause physical, psychological, and emotional stress, including burnout – a workplace syndrome that is characterized by high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization (i.e., cynicism), and a low sense of personal accomplishment from work.

Seems to me this is a problem that needs to be treated as the highest priority as our nation's healthcare system is reformed. It's fine to talk about "Medicare for All" or other aggressive ideas to provide affordable healthcare for more people.

But it won't do a hell of a lot of good if the people who are supposed to provide that care are so exhausted, overwhelmed and depressed that they can't do their work.

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