A recent report from the Harvard Global Health Institute shows that
frequent changes to health care environments and protocol have contributed to an increased rate of burnout among physicians that has escalated into a public health crisis that “urgently demands action,”
The report emphasizes the structural dimension of this crisis. Too many physicians find that the day-to-day demands of their profession are at odds with their professional commitment to healing and providing care.
The demoralizing misalignment of the physician’s values and his or her ability to meet his or her patient’s needs, due to conditions beyond the physician’s control, such as poverty, lack of insurance authorization, or unreasonably short appointment times, has been termed “moral injury.”
It is not that physicians are inadequately “tough enough” to undertake their work, but that the demands of their work too often diverge from and indeed contradict their mission to provide high-quality care.
In the same release, Dr. Alain Chaoui, study co-author and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said health care institutions need “to recognize burnout at the highest level and to take active steps to survey physicians for burnout, and then identify and implement solutions. We need to take better care of our doctors and all caregivers so that they can continue to take the best care of us.”
The report includes several recommendations for health care industry stakeholders, including:
- Support proactive mental health treatment, as well as physicians experiencing burnout and related challenges;
- Improve the usability and standards of patient electronic health records, a known contributing factor to physician burnout; and
- Designate executive-level chief wellness officers at major health care organizations.
The report warns that, “If left unaddressed, the worsening crisis threatens to undermine the very provision of care, as well as eroding the mental health of physicians across the country.”