Physician Burnout: The Warning Signs and 5 Steps to Take to Avoid It
Over the last 25 years, repeated studies have shownan...
Physician burnout is an epidemic hidden in plain sight amongst the providers on the front lines.
Over the last 25 years, repeated studies have shown an average of 1 in 3 doctors suffer from symptomatic physician burnout on any given office day. That statistic is stunning enough. The fact that this average is worldwide and regardless of specialty is even more fascinating. Some surveys – typically among surgeons – show physician burnout rates over 70 percent.
There is no reason to think nursing burnout, or administrator burnout are any less prevalent. CEO turnover in health care is the highest of all measured industries.
3 Physician Burnout Warning Signs
The difference between physician burnout and simple work stress is your ability to recover your normal reserves of physical and emotional energy between shifts. If you can recover and function normally next week, fantastic. If your energy is in a long downward spiral and you are tapped out and unable to give your best at work … you are most likely suffering from physician burnout.
The three classic signs and symptoms of physician burnout are:
1. Emotional Exhaustion
You are drained after the office day, hospital rounds or being on call and are unable to recover with time off. Over time your energy level begins to follow a downward spiral.
You find yourself being cynical and sarcastic about patients. Your attitude is negative, callous, detached and uncaring. You can feel put upon by your patients and complain about them to your colleagues. This aspect of burnout is commonly referred to as “compassion fatigue.” It is often easier for you to see this in others than notice it in yourself.
3. Reduced Accomplishment
Here you begin to question whether you are offering quality care and whether what you do really matters at all.
5 Ways to Avoid Burnout
1. Practice smart scheduling.
Chances are there are certain times of the year when your waiting room is filled with patients (and other times when it isn't). If possible, book your schedule to allow more meaningful time off during low-volume periods — rather than being "trapped" in the office with a light schedule for the full week.
2. Start a hobby.
Making time for outside endeavors is often linked with professional satisfaction. So if you enjoy writing, for example, consider creating your own blog, or contributing to another medical blog. Or take a recreational class on something totally unrelated to medicine at your local college.
3. Go for a walk during the day.
Many physicians say they don't have time to fit a regular exercise program into their busy schedules. But most everyone has time to take a 10-minute walk once a day. If you're just too busy to take that lunchtime stroll, follow the Mayo Clinic's advice and take a 30-minute walk after work to blow off steam. Just remember: Making patient rounds doesn't count!
4. Delegate tasks.
Sometimes burnout is a simple case of a physician taking on too many responsibilities. To make your life more manageable, delegate tasks that don't require your talents/skills in the clinical area as well as the management arena. This will allow you to spend more time focusing on patient care.
5. Make time for family.
Those who feel the most burned-out tend to be those whose lives are out of balance. To avoid the resentment over an all-work-no-play life, play with your kids on a daily basis. For physicians with adolescents and teenagers, schedule time for a game of catch or making dinner as a family.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.