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Est. 2014

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Mayo Clinic researcher explains how physician burnout is impacting healthcare

Mayo Clinic researcher explains how physician burnout is impacting healthcare

Physician burnout has become an epidemic in healthcare, says Dr. Colin West, a Mayo Clinic researcher specializing in physician well-being.

West describes physician burnout as a chronic work-related feeling that involves both emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Research shows the issue could be impacting up to half of all doctors.

“The emotional exhaustion part is feeling emotionally that you have nothing left to give your patients,” explained West. “You can’t really engage with your patients emotionally, which is obviously at the core of medical practice. And the depersonalization part is becoming callous toward the experiences of your patients, which again is antithetical to the professional ideals of all healthcare professionals, not just physicians.”

Among the issues physicians are faced with is an increased load of paperwork and bureaucracy. Dr. West says these clerical burdens, also dubbed the “hassle factors of medicine,” are a big problem.

Many requirements, he said, start with good intentions but over time lead to physicians spending less time with their patients.

“Some degree of this documentation is necessary,” said West, “but do we really need to have longer notes than the rest of the world?”

The consequences of burnout go well beyond the physicians themselves. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that doctor burnout is costing the U.S. healthcare system about $4.6 billion a year.

Addressing the issue, West said, is going to take a shared responsibility. The majority of factors contributing to burnout, he said, will require systematic and institutional changes, versus individual coping strategies.

“We have to recognize that to take care of patients, the people who are responsible for those roles have to themselves be taken care of,” said West.

We recently had the chance to visit Dr. West in his office. You can listen to our full, in-depth conversation by clicking the audio clip below.

Sean Baker is a Rochester journalist and the founder of Med City Beat.

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