Physician burnout and depression continue to worsen, according to a new report from Medscape. The findings are especially concerning at a time of waning COVID-19 and greater awareness of the harmful effects of physician burnout and depression, Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine, told Fierce Healthcare.
“You might think that maybe things are getting a little bit better, but they’re definitely not,” Kane said.
In the survey, more than half of physicians said they are feeling burned out, up from 42% saying so in 2018 and 47% in 2021. Nearly a quarter also reported being depressed in 2022. Most said job burnout was the reason for their depression, with nearly half also saying world events significantly contributed to it.
The “I Cry and No One Cares” report is based on a 2022 Medscape survey that reached more than 9,100 U.S. physicians across 29 specialties. The report is so titled after the confession of a respondent in the survey.
Emergency medicine continues to be the medical specialty experiencing the highest levels of burnout, per the survey, followed by internal medicine and pediatrics. The specialties most affected have shifted; the number of emergency medicine doctors, family physicians, and internists experiencing burnout is up compared to five years ago. Women continue to be disproportionately impacted by burnout. Two-thirds of doctors said burnout has negatively impacted their relationships.
This year’s report showed less burnout in solo practices than in other work settings, thanks to greater autonomy and control over productivity. Kane suggested that some doctors might consider switching their form of practice to help reduce burnout.
For most doctors, workplace stress is caused by too many bureaucratic tasks like paperwork, lack of respect from co-workers, long work hours, and insufficient compensation. There are some tactical tools that can help, but not solve, the problem, Kane suggested, like using a scribe for note-taking or leaning on artificial intelligence to fill out prior authorization paperwork.
Most cope with burnout by exercising and talking with family or friends. Nearly a third have reduced work hours.
What would help most with burnout, doctors reported, is higher compensation, a more manageable work schedule, and more support staff. As more physicians become employed by health systems, the report suggested that they work longer hours than they are paid for. Their only option is to ask for a raise “to at least make them feel more respected and valued,” Peter Yellowlees, M.D., chief wellness officer at the University of California, Davis, said in the report.
Half of the doctors said they believed a union would help combat burnout. But, the report cautioned, that could be a last-ditch effort to bring more attention to the issue. Nearly half of the respondents said their workplace offers a program to reduce burnout, while more than a third said it does not.
Many of these doctors are reluctant to seek professional help for burnout due to the stigma around mental health support. Almost half of the surveyed doctors haven’t sought help, and over a third wouldn’t seek it or tell others about their depression. The survey found that a quarter of doctors are depressed, with two-thirds having colloquial depression, which is feeling down and sad but not meeting the criteria for being clinically depressed. Furthermore, depression leads almost a fifth of doctors to be less careful with patient notes and nearly a third to become easily exasperated. Peer groups and mental health support programs for doctors are crucial to address these issues. Keeping communication with provider organization leadership is key to preventing doctors from leaving the profession over burnout.
Kane encourages doctors to try small changes: “The big thing is to try,” she said. “Whatever you can, little things can make a difference.”