Burnout is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the physician community.
But, in addition to the concerns about mental well-being, physicians should also be wary of the effect of their own burnout on their patients’ experience.
A recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital has identified a direct correlation between physicians identifying as burned out and the likelihood of patients to recommend that provider.
“Efforts to decrease physician burnout and improve patient experience remain segregated in different corners of the health-care system,” study authors Dr. Kathleen E McKee, Dr. Marcela G. del Carmen, and Andrea Tull wrote in their report published in the Journal of Patient Experience. “Based on the correlation between burnout and experience, a joint approach should be considered. Fixing one may fix the other or fixing both together may fix both faster.”
McKee and co-authors surveyed 1,343 physicians, including 100 neurologists, for their analysis. They compared clinician burnout scores with patient satisfaction measures like whether a patient would recommend the provider to a friend or family member.
Overall, the study found that patients were more likely to recommend physicians and had higher overall visit ratings if they were seeing doctors with lower burnout scores.
Measuring patient experience is hard and does not correlate with patient satisfaction. Physicians should remember that patient experience is determined by several factors, including their own preconceived expectations for care, the authors write.
The survey found when outpatient clinics were adequately staffed and patients experienced shorter wait times before appointments, experience ratings went up. And the benefits may be twofold, McKee and coauthors suggest. Less sick patients who have received care faster, and will thus be less frustrated, will also improve physician experience.
There is no quick fix to fixing physician burnout, according to the report.
“There cannot be a single approach across an organization that will effectively combat burnout and improve experience,” the authors write. “Only with such customized systematic change can we elevate patients’ experience of care while simultaneously restoring joy and meaning to physicians’ practice of medicine.”
McKee and co-authors said one limitation of the study was that the physician burnout scores were collected from survey questions that ranged the clinicians’ entire work life, not just their outpatient work. But the only patients surveyed were from outpatient clinics.
Physicians received monetary compensation for participating in the survey as part of the hospital’s quality incentive program, according to the study.