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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Medical Personnel Burnout Could Mean Problems For Patients, Wisconsin Researcher Finds

National Academy of Medicine webcast
Professor Pascale Carayon, of the UW-Madison speaks Wednesday at the National Academy of Medicine, in Washington D.C.

A national study co-led by a Wisconsin researcher indicates burnout among doctors, nurses and other health care personnel is a significant problem. The report released Wednesday by the National Academy of Medicine also outlines some ways to prevent and reduce burnout. 

The study says between one-third and one-half of U.S. clinicians experience significant burnout symptoms. Clinicians are doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacist — any health care personnel having direct contact with patients. The report says about half of medical students and residents experience burnout.

Burnout is defined as emotional exhaustion, detachment and a low sense of personal accomplishment, according to the report. Pascale Carayon, a University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial and systems engineering professor, co-chaired the committee that did the research. Carayon says a lot of the burnout is related to workplace stress.

"Such as high workload, high time pressure, technologies that are not usable such as the electronic health record. And low job resources, such as lack of control over your job. Misalignment of values, between values of the organization and that of the clinician," Carayon explained to WUWM.

Carayon says that misalignment can lead to moral distress that could be tied to the quality of care patients receive.

"Whether the organization is asking you to take care of so many patients per period of time. Or whether patients and their families are asking you to pursue a treatment that the clinician may think is not a good pathway," Carayon said.

Clinician burnout can lead to increased absenteeism, people leaving the medical profession and even an increased risk of health problems, including thoughts of suicide, Carayon says.  

Credit Screenshot / National Academy of Medicine webcast
National Academy of Medicine webcast
Burnout on the job happens to a lot of people. A new report says it's happening to up to half of doctors and nurses due to workplace stress.

The report urges the health care system to create positive work environments, address burnout in training and early in careers, and reduce tasks that don't improve patient care. It also advises to make it easier to use electronic health records and reduce the stigma of getting help for burnout. 

The Medical College of Wisconsin is one of about 30 organizations that helped sponsor the report. The College says its wellness task force has the goal of the institution contributing to a full, healthy lifestyle. And that increased engagement and satisfaction will reduce burnout and turnover.

The Chief Medical Officer of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, Dr. Tim Lineberry, says one thing Aurora is doing is developing more clinician leaders.

"Because there's evidence the more leadership development and the higher the quality of clinician leaders, that that results in a decreased rate for burnout. The other part we're looking at is building social communities, so bringing our clinicians together, to increase communication and try to reduce social isolation," Lineberry said.

The National Academy of Medicine says it's hoping the clinician burnout report brings change, the way reports 20 years ago improved patient safety.

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

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