New study says physician burnout is becoming major problem

As medical students, doctors had visions of one day caring for patients. These days, many of them find themselves forced to care more about paperwork.

Now, a new study is claiming that physician burnout is becoming a major problem, with doctors forced into doing too much paperwork, and too little of why they became doctors in the first place.

"You can say it's talked about, and it's actually not talked about enough," Alain Chaoui, M.D., of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said.

Chaoui, co-author of the study, says the issue has to be talked about as it becomes a national crisis.

"It's a crisis because, at the end of the day, it affects the access for our patients," Chaoui said.

Some physicians are actually giving up on medicine, at a time when there's already a shortage of doctors in some areas of the United States.

"The simple fact is clinician burnout harms patients," Karim Awad, M.D., said.

Awad works to identify and address physician burnout for Atrius Health as part of their clinician wellness program, and got a surprise recently when he attended his medical school reunion.

"Speaking to my medical school friends, almost none of them encourage their sons or daughters to go into the practice of medicine," Awad said.

Awad said that's mainly because the profession has changed.

"Go back about 10 or 20 years, you had more time to spend with your doctor," Awad said.

But, these days, doctors are likely busy with insurance paperwork, keeping records electronically and seeing more patients, and that could mean they are tired.

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Dr. Awad stresses that physician burnout is not a mental illness, but more a symptom of a broken system that expects doctors and other healthcare workers to do jobs that have nothing to do with patient care.

Still, the new study does recommend mental health support for physicians experiencing burnout, as it suggests a general course correction to let doctors be doctors.