Practice Management

Helping alleviate hospitalist burnout

Focus on systemic factors


For hospitalists, burnout is a widespread and ongoing problem. In 2011, a Mayo Clinic study found that 45% of U.S. physicians had at least one symptom of professional burnout; by 2014, that number had risen to 54%.


“Burnout among physicians has been shown to be linked to quality of care, impacting medical errors, mortality ratios in hospitalized patients, and lower patient satisfaction,” said Ingrid T. Katz, MD, MHS, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and coauthor of a recent column on the subject published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Widespread burnout is caused by systemic factors, not individual failures. “These systemic factors range from excessive clerical burden to ‘work beyond work,’ where people end up taking work home at night and are often found interfacing with the EHR well after their normal work day,” Dr. Katz said. “Many also express their disdain for the model of practice that no longer values autonomy, which was seen as inherent in the profession prior to the current model of care.”

Moving towards a better framework would require an inherent trust in physicians, limiting unnecessary intrusions into a physician’s practice that do not impact medical care. “It would remove the burden of excessive documentation and allow for physicians to get reinspired by the practice of medicine, an inherently altruistic profession,” Dr. Katz said.

Changes might include eliminating excessive clerical demands and improving EHRs to allow physicians to return to the bedside. Workloads would be geared towards quality in care and not focused on improving the bottom line of a health care system. One health system Dr. Katz wrote about instituted a team-based model; under this system medical assistants gather data and reconcile medications, allowing physicians to focus on performing physical exams and making medical decisions.

“Burnout will diminish when physicians are empowered to be part of the solution and hospital systems make changes that recognize the totality of the challenges that physicians face,” Dr. Katz said, adding that hospitalists are in a unique position to promote such changes on a systemic level. “Leadership needs to be willing to inform and engage their physicians, monitor well-being of physicians as closely as they monitor quality in care, and implement changes when needed.”


1. Katz IT et al. Beyond Burnout – Redesigning Care to Restore Meaning and Sanity for Physicians. N Engl J Med. 2018 Jan 25. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1716845.

Next Article:

   Comments ()