Too many specific theories about physician burnout can cloud the real issue and allow healthcare leaders to circle around the “elephant in the room”.
The cause of physician burnout isn’t just the EMRs, Meaningful Use, CMS regulations, the chronic disease epidemic or any other single item.
Instead, it is simply this: Healthcare today has no clear definition of what a physician is. We are more or less suddenly finding ourselves on a playing field, tackled and hollered at, without knowing what sport we are playing and what the rules are.
Historically, physicians have been viewed as professionals and also, more lately, as skilled workers. But we are more and more viewed and treated as neither. Therein lies the problem.
The way professionals are treated is this: You present them with a problem and they use their knowledge to solve that problem Since they know more than the requester, they aren’t micromanaged. They usually also set their fees and determine the time needed to realistically finish he job.
Skilled workers are asked to apply knowledge and workflows to relatively strictly defined tasks and it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure they have what they need to finish the job. If the tasks are unrealistic, the manager is held responsible: If the assembly line is moving too fast and the majority of workers end up passing on unfinished product or start pulling it off the line to finish later at home, the manager is likely to take the consequences. No one is likely to say that all workers, individually, are responsible for such chaos.
But in today’s healthcare, we have a rapidly moving assembly line. The foremen blame the workers for not attaching all the parts or not keeping up with the workload. Upper management doesn’t always take full responsibility, instead shrugging and saying: “it isn’t our problem, they’re professionals, they should be able to figure this out”.
Put simply: If anybody wants to define and manage our work for us instead of letting us do it, they become responsible for the outcomes if we aren’t given the time or the tools we, as the ones who went to school, know we need.
The cure for physician burnout is simple: Listen to us when we say what we need in order to do our best. We didn’t spend all this time and energy so we could collect our salaries and goof off.
Most of us still have a professional mindset. We want to do a good job and we know how to do it. Let us.