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Bulk of doctors say healthcare is failing to stem physician burnout, survey says

Time pressures were the top cause of physician burnout, according to the responses, followed by the burden of electronic health records.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Seventy-four percent of primary care physicians and emergency room doctors do not feel their healthcare facility or practice is taking effective steps to address and prevent burnout, according to a new survey by healthcare-centric market intelligence firm InCrowd.

The data represents a mid-year checkpoint on physician perceptions as measures in the Affordable Care Act change the nature of doctoring; at least 30 major teaching hospitals have launched initiatives to slow burnout ahead of the law's potential impact on patient safety and quality outcomes, the survey found.

Fifty-seven percent of the primary care and emergency medicine doctors surveyed in May -- two of the specialties reporting the highest burnout rates -- said they have personally experienced burnout. An additional 37 percent of respondents said that while they personally hadn't experienced burnout, they know others who had.

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Burnout was defined as "decreased enthusiasm for work, depersonalization, emotional exhaustion and a low sense of personal accomplishment."

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they felt frustrated by their work a few times weekly, or every day; 58 percent were unsure if they would recommend a career in medicine to a child or family member, or knew they would not.

Time pressures were the top cause of physician burnout, according to the responses.

"I'm trying to balance the need to work faster, see more patients, generate more income for others, i.e. ACOs, hospitals, insurers against the fear of error facing irate families, malpractice injuries," said a Florida emergency medicine physician in the survey. "It hardly seems worth the trouble when all I wanted to do was practice medicine and help people."

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Electronic medical records were the second most frequently reported stressor, which "nearly double the time and expense of medical practice for most direct patient care physicians, including physicians in training, without increasing any type of reimbursement," said a primary care provider.

This survey assessed the responses of 200 primary care physicians and emergency medicine physicians who each have been practicing for 10 or more years; the participants had an average of 17 years in practice.

Diane Hayes, co-founder and president of InCrowd, said in a statement that the problem of burnout "isn't going away," but said it's important that those who keep people well "are also keeping themselves intact, too."

Twitter: @JELagasse