More than 40% of physicians report feeling burned out and 15% report feeling some form of depression, according to a January 17, 2018, Medscape survey. Of the more than 15,000 physicians in 29 specialties who responded, 42% reported symptoms of burnout, 12% reported feeling "down" (or used another colloquial term for depression), and 3% reported suffering from clinical depression. About 14% of respondents reported feeling both burnout and depression. The highest rates of burnout were reported by intensivists and critical care physicians (48%), neurologists (48%), and family physicians (47%). These results could be skewed, said a psychiatrist quoted in the study, because some physicians may report burnout when they are actually experiencing depression. Depression has a negative stigma in the medical community, while "burnout," he says, "is almost a badge of honor." Some physicians are fearful of reporting depression, the article said. A family physician quoted in the article noted that some doctors travel hundreds of miles to get treatment because they fear being identified. Around one-third of depressed physicians surveyed said that their condition impacted patient care, reporting they are more easily exasperated by patients and less engaged with patients. Some of the depressed physicians (14%) even said their condition could cause them to make an error they would not normally make. Frequently reported causes of burnout, the article said, were feeling burdened with bureaucratic tasks and spending too many hours at work. Strategies for tackling burnout, the authors say, include leadership support for burnout and improving communication among clinical teams. The results of the entire survey are available as part of Medscape's National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018.
HRC Recommends: Despite physicians' responsibility to manage the health of others, many give little attention to their own wellness. Studies have found that physicians who suffer from a behavioral health condition may be unlikely to seek care. In addition to the barriers already described, another significant barrier is required disclosure of a behavioral health history on applications such as state licensing forms. To avoid disclosure, some physicians choose to avoid treatment. Risk managers should ensure that their organizations provide a supportive environment for their healthcare professionals, including tools and strategies for individual self-care and resiliency, opportunities to debrief after stressful situations, limits on moonlighting and consecutive workdays, and more.