Primary care physicians are burned out, survey finds

Health

(NewsNation) — A majority of primary care doctors in the U.S. and 10 other high-income countries say they are burned out and stressed, according to a new Commonwealth Fund survey.

No profession is free from work-related stress. The nation’s teachers and women in the workforce are leaving their jobs or “quiet quitting” after experiencing feelings of burnout. The nation’s pastors are even struggling with burnout and quitting just like much of the U.S. workforce.

As it’s now part of everyday life, it is no surprise that feelings of burnout are also affecting the world’s health care workers.

The Commonwealth Fund survey makes the case that burnout is a serious problem confronting physicians in the United States and abroad. It also suggests that feelings of burnout among physicians could compromise the quality of care they provide patients. 

“I think in the primary care community, there’s always been a high level of stress because primary care is undersupplied and under compensated. But that has not been as much true in the international community where I think COVID has been the major factor,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, the president of The Commonwealth Fund.

According to the findings from the 2022 International Health Policy Survey of Primary Care Physicians, more than half of primary care physicians surveyed said their workload had increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The survey cites a larger backlog of patients needing care, overall sicker patients, and more time spent on administrative tasks as contributors to these heavier workloads.

Primary care physicians need to be rewarded more for the very hard work they do. They need to be supported with more behavioral health, mental health services,” Blumenthal said. “They need to be integrated into groups where the responsibility and the demand for care can be distributed across colleagues, and across nurse practitioners and other kinds of health care aides. So they need to be protected against the onslaught that faces them not only daily in their work, but also during the pandemic.”

According to the survey, younger primary care physicians were more likely than their older peers to report having stressful jobs.

In each country, at least a third of younger physicians — those under age 55 — reported having a “very stressful” or “extremely stressful” job.

Older primary care physicians — those ages 55 and older — were significantly less likely to report being stressed out from their jobs. However, findings show that potentially one-third or more of older physicians are planning to leave the workforce in the near future.

The majority of primary care physicians in all surveyed countries may soon be younger professionals burdened by stress and burnout.

The reasons extend beyond the work environment, according to the survey, and include the limited social support during lockdowns and general uncertainty around the coronavirus’s impact.

According to the survey, physicians were considered to have burnout if they reported being physically or emotionally exhausted, being frustrated in the workplace, or wondering if they can go on or need to make changes or seek help.

The survey asked physicians if they experienced emotional distress such as “anxiety, great sadness, anger, or feelings of hopelessness.”

Younger primary care physicians who reported emotional distress were more likely to seek professional help for mental health needs in nearly all countries surveyed, but most physicians, regardless of age, did not seek help.

Furthermore, the survey findings indicate that all physicians, regardless of age, sought treatment at fairly low rates.

Feeling burned out can affect a physician’s ability to provide high-quality care.

In nine of the 10 countries surveyed, primary care physicians who reported feeling burned out were significantly more likely to say the quality of care they were able to provide had worsened during the pandemic.

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