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Physician Exhaustion: Why We all Need to Break the Taboo

When thinking of healthcare in the United States, most people’s first thought revolves around the patients and their needs, not around the physicians and how they are doing. However, physician health and mental well-being is one of the areas in the American healthcare system that is suffering the most, and many people point to the way medicine is practiced in the U.S. as the cause…

A new study has found that, due to clerical demands, doctors spend an average of 2 hours on the computer for everyone 1 hour they see a patient. This means not only are they working more, but find themselves unable to focus the time and attention they need or want on the patients physically sitting in front of them. This conflict has a number of detrimental effects, for both doctors and patients, and is just one factor that is causing the steep uptick of physician exhaustion in the U.S., with the condition now effecting over 54% of doctors in our country.

One negative effect is the fact that the conflict of clerical demands vs. time with a patient can take away the physician’s passion and love for practicing medicine. Most doctors enter the medical field and go through years of grueling school because their passion is helping others. However, in today’s world these doctors now find themselves working a job that demands more of their time be spent on “paperwork” instead of on their patients.

Another effect is that the overwork/exhaustion among physicians can lead to increased mistakes, be it clerical, medical, or other, which in turn means the patients usually pay the price. Whether this is an increased risk of misdiagnosis, entering information on the computer wrong, or an issue with how a procedure or medicine was entered for insurance, the patient is often the first to become sicker, or more stressed, by having to deal with wrong information. I’m sure many of us can attest first-hand to how stressful it is to deal with a miscommunication between insurance, physicians and hospitals, especially when it involves a check-up or procedure that we know was fully covered. It is a problem we’d all love to never deal with again. Sadly, the errors made also mean additional work for the physician, adding to their swamped schedule of current problems.

A third effect of the physician exhaustion problem in our country is the rise of suicide among doctors. Although this topic in particular has a large taboo around it, the rise in the number of suicides over the past years is alarming, and needs to be brought to the attention of the public. The “hush hush” around it only leads to a continued increase in suicides, which in turn cascades into a circle of continuous problems, including those outlined above.

By bringing to light a few of the negative effects, the point is not to place blame on one particular person or institution, but rather to bring attention to a problem in our society that has a myriad of negative effects. For instance, although it is not ideal for physicians to spend 2 hours on the computer for every 1 hour with their patients, entering important health data is a key factor in helping systems catch early warning signs of potentially fatal conditions, monitor and prevent the spread of disease, and so on. The problem therefore isn’t the need to enter data, but how it is delegated, and the lack of training provided to physicians, hospitals, and other health entities on how to correctly enter said data. Without training, the tasks take much longer, leading to the 2 hours doctors spend on the computer for the 1 hour with their patients.

Besides identifying where the issue or miscommunication occurs that is causing the problems for physicians and patients alike, it is equally as important to look at what hospitals and clinics can do to help combat physician exhaustion. The great news is that many are already taking action, and a few of the ways they are, include: having better training on the systems and clerical tasks required, thereby saving time and effort down the line; investing in classes such as yoga and personal coaching to develop better coping methods and work life balance; and putting gardening plots outside of hospitals to help reduce stress. Another large focus has been on ways HR and individuals can improve relationships within a hospital or clinic to help physicians, patients, and everyone involved feel better equipped and supported to withstand the stressful demands and schedules of the busy health world.

In short, although the landscape and reality of the causes and effects of physician exhaustion in the United States may seem bleak, there is a lot we can do, and that is already being done to help combat the problem. Becoming aware is one of the most important things, as it helps to break the taboo that currently surrounds the topic. As we all know first-hand, health is undeniably a crucial focus in our world, and if we are not healthy, we cannot achieve our goals. It is important to remember that physicians are also people who need to maintain their health, be it mental or physical, so they can keep all of us on track for a healthy and successful life.


5 Ways to Improve Physician Mental Health
Counting the Costs: U.S. Hospitals Feeling the Pain of Physician Burnout
Taking Care of the Physician

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