Question: What good is a healthcare system if there are not enough doctors to provide care?
The answer: not very good.
A study published this year by the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, the T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Global Health Institute documents that physician burnout in the United States is at a crisis level.
They write: “The prevalence of physician burnout has reached critical levels. Recent evidence indicates that nearly half of all physicians experience burnout in some form. And it appears to be getting worse. The 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians Practice Patterns and Perspectives, conducted by Merritt Hawkins on behalf of the Physicians Foundation, finds that 78% of surveyed physicians experience feelings of professional burnout at least sometimes, an increase of 4% from the 2016 survey.”
Burnout is being driven by:
1. Less time being spent face-to-face with patients.
2. Longer days because of administrative tasks.
3. Distortion of the goals of patient care.
All of these are the result of a healthcare system that:
1. Places computers between physicians and patients and pushes doctors to see more patients each day.
2. Has hundreds of different sets of rules depending on what insurance a patient has and where they are given care.
3. Demands physicians prove they are providing high quality care without giving them the ability to determine what is best for each patient’s circumstances.
While the report concludes that the answer to physician burnout is more focus on individual physician wellness, the reality is that wellness methods will not restore the physician-patient relationship, reduce documentation or change the goals of care. “Wellness” requires physicians to cope with a dysfunctional system.
To cure physician burnout, we need to change the healthcare system. National improved Medicare for All changes the system in ways that will reduce physician burnout.
A national improved Medicare for All will:
1. Restore the physician-patient relationship by allowing patients to choose and stay with a doctor over time without the worry of changing insurance and being forced to change doctors. It will allow physicians to spend time with patients knowing they have income security and their patient’s care will be covered.
2. Streamline the administrative process by having one set of transparent rules.
3. Remove the profit first motive that forces physicians to “perform” rather than focus on the needs of their individual patients.
Physician burnout is a system problem, not an individual problem, and it requires a systemic solution.