Physician burnout is a hot topic, popping up everywhere from KevinMD to the Huffington Post. According to a 2015 Mayo Clinic study, the problem is increasing and now affects more than half of US physicians.
What is burnout? Among health care professionals, the syndrome includes loss of enthusiasm for work, treating patients like objects, and feeling that work is no longer meaningful.
Clearly, this situation is terrible for practitioners. If not addressed, it can progress to severe physician impairment, addiction or even suicide. But more than that, burnout affects patients. A burnt-out caregiver will have the bedside manner of a cardboard cutout—on a good day. And burnt-out healthcare professionals are more likely to make mistakes, placing patients at greater risk of harm from medical malpractice.
Obviously, more errors will wreak havoc with institutional statistics and third party ratings. And through the wonders of social media, even a single patient’s negative experience involving a single practitioner can easily become bad press for an entire institution. Furthermore, an institution notorious for physician burnout will have a harder time attracting quality practitioners. If the projected physician shortage is real, the result could be a staffing nightmare. For these three reasons, physician burnout is a marcom issue. It directly affects the quality of care being delivered, and people do notice.
Fortunately, there are steps institutions can take—some of them not all that complicated—to mitigate the problem. In an interview on PBS, Mayo Clinic President and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy (@JNoseworthyMD) offers a few ideas. Even just making sure supervisors are sympathetic, or sponsoring monthly lunches to encourage camaraderie among physicians, can make a difference. As a marketing specialist, you might want to find out what your institutional leaders are doing about the epidemic of physician burnout. And encourage them to address it as vigorously as possible.