Doctor Burn-out and How It’s Impacting Your Health Care

December 14, 2016

tired doctor

Of course your doctors have a direct effect on your health, particularly the diagnosis and treatment of your ailments. It is also true that the type of relationship you have with your doctors can directly impact the care you receive. Like any relationship, a strained one can lead to frustrations and misunderstandings, and when this occurs with your doctor, the results can mean less than optimal care, misdiagnosis and/or delayed healing.

We‘ve all experienced the frustration that comes with long waits at the doctor’s office. And many of us feel rushed during appointments, perhaps even pressured to minimize the number of questions we ask. Other times we might feel frustrated and/or disappointed when we feel like our doctor is not truly listening to us, or taking our concerns seriously. The relationship we have with each of our doctors can be complicated and ripe for conflict.

In order to have the best possible relationship with your doctor, and ultimately the best possible care, it’s important to understand what it’s like to be a doctor today. If we better understand their day-to-day pressures, we’re more likely come to appointments better prepared and in a better state of mind.

Due to billing policies and overhead expenses, doctors may see 24-25 patients/day. The 15-20 minutes allowed for each patient is generally not enough time for patients with complicated medical histories, those who are very ill, or those who present with tricky symptoms.  In addition to seeing patients in the office, doctors must handle a wide range of other time consuming responsibilities each day, including phone calls, emails, reviewing lab reports and imaging results, consulting with other doctors, refilling prescriptions, and dealing with insurance companies.

Your overworked doctor and its impact on your care

Doctors are impacted by job stress. One study found that 50% of Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) describe themselves as burned out. Many factors are responsible for these feelings, including an increased demand for productivity, a decrease in the amount of face time with patients, and an increase in administrative burdens (including filling out electronic forms) that don’t directly benefit their patients, and too many difficult patients. 

Research has found that “burnout can be associated with a deterioration in the physician-patient relationship and a decrease in both the quantity and quality of care.” By many accounts, burned out physicians can negatively impact patient outcomes and recovery times, diminish patient satisfaction and reduce adherence to treatment plans.

The increasing demands on their time can also lead to errors. Almost 30% of PCPs report they personally missed test results that led to care delays. There have been various studies that show the negative impact of burnout on patient care. So how can we help alleviate some of these pressures. 

Kindness matters

Studies have shown that kindness, compassion and empathy actually have a significant effect on healing. When patients are stressed and anxious, their immune function and wound healing capabilities are negatively impacted. Conversely, studies have found that when nurses and doctors show empathy for a patient, by listening, connecting and validating their feelings, patients are likely to be less anxious, which leads to quicker recoveries from a wide range of conditions, including surgery.

Of course, this is a two-way street – kindness towards medical staff by patients can positively impact doctors and nurses. If you want to help your doctor avoid burnout, treat him/her with respect and have empathy regarding the burden of their work. 

Be Prepared, Pleasant and Persistent

So what can you do to maximize your time and strengthen your relationship with your doctors? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be compassionate and patient – realize that doctors are often overloaded, overworked and stressed. A little compassion from you goes a long way!
  • Come to appointments prepared with questions, symptoms, concerns, etc.  Prioritize your health issues/complaints in order of severity and/or concern.
  • If you don’t understand what your doctor is telling you, politely ask for the doctor to repeat or rephrase his/her comments. Don’t leave the appointment confused about what you’ve been told.
  • Don’t wait until the end of the appointment to bring up a serious concern or issue.
  • Don’t leave the appointment without a plan for next steps.
  • If you bring information you found on the Internet to an appointment be open to a conversation, and don’t insist that your information is more relevant than what your doctor has.
  • Listen carefully and evaluate what your doctor is recommending. You have a right to refuse testing, treatments and/or medications, but don’t make rash decisions.
  • Take detailed notes at all doctor appointments, and share the information with all members of your medical team at future appointments.
  • Keep copies of all important documents (test results, etc.) together and organized, and bring them with you to all appointments.
  • If something doesn’t seem right, speak up!
  • Contact your doctor’s office to learn test results if you have not heard back within the expected time frame. Do not assume that “no news is good news”.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to contact your doctor for prescription refills, referrals, and other requests.
  • If you hate waiting, try to schedule the first appointment of the day or the first appointment after the doctor’s lunch break.

Doctors today are facing increased pressures – an increase in the number of  patients and related reporting and less time available per patient – and it’s not going to get any easier any time soon. A little kindness and understanding, and appointment preparedness, will go a long way in alleviating the pressure your doctor feels during your visits and may contribute to better care. We know that taking a more proactive role in our own healthcare is not just the right thing to do; it can positively impact the kind of care we receive.

Written by Roberta Carson
Roberta Carson, Founder and President, Zaggo, Inc. Roberta founded Zaggo, Inc. in 2010 to help patients and caregivers effectively manage their own illnesses and injuries after caring for her son Zachary during his 27 month battle with terminal brain cancer. Roberta created the ZaggoCare System to provide patients and families with the information and tools they need to be engaged, empowered members of their medical teams. 100% of the profits from Zaggo are donated to the Zachary Carson Brain Tumor Fund to support pediatric brain tumor research.

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1 Comment

  1. Of course they are! How could they not!!! When they spend their whole life wanting to save the world, their brain doesn’t just turn off and shut down!!!


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