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Physician Burnout Leads to Cut Back in Clinical Practice Hours

October 13th, 2016

ROCHESTER, MN – Many physicians facing declining professional satisfaction respond by reducing the number of hours they devote to clinical practice, according to a new study.

That trend can be a dangerous one, however, as the nation faces physician shortages in areas such as family medicine and general internal medicine, emphasizes an article in a recent issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"A dramatic increase in burnout has occurred among U.S. physicians over the last several years," said lead author Tait Shanafelt, MD. "Using independent payroll records, this study objectively found that the measured level of burnout today predicts whether physicians will cut their work hours over the next 12-24 months."

For the study, researchers from Mayo Clinic and Sirota Survey Intelligence linked together data from validated surveys assessing burnout and work satisfaction from physicians at Mayo Clinic with seven years of administrative and payroll records. Every point increase in the 7-point scale measuring emotional exhaustion, a characteristic of burnout, resulted in a 40% greater likelihood that Mayo Clinic physicians would cut back their hours over the next two years.

Including physicians on the Mayo Clinic payroll in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota and taking geographic site, age, sex and specialty into consideration, the longitudinal study used survey data from 1,856 physicians responding in 2011 and 2,132 physicians responding in 2013.

Results indicate that, between 2008 and 2014, the proportion of physicians working less than full time at Mayo Clinic increased from 13.5% to 16.0%. At the individual physician level, however, each 1-point increase in emotional exhaustion (or 1-point decrease in satisfaction) between 2011 and 2013 was associated with a greater likelihood of reducing full time work over the next 12 months.

"There is a societal imperative to provide physicians a better option than choosing between reducing clinical work or burning out," Shanafelt pointed out in a Mayo Clinic press release. "Physicians reducing their professional effort due to burnout could exacerbate the already substantial U.S. physician workforce shortage as well as impact continuity of care for patients."

That especially would be a problem for several primary care disciplines, such as family medicine and general internal medicine, which already have the largest projected physician shortages and have some of the highest rates of burnout, he added.