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Physician Burnout: Helping Those Who Help Us


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physician burnout

Physicians often see us at our worst. Remembering to be mindful of how we treat them could go a long way to help bolster their thinning ranks, which results in fewer hours. Physician turnover and the reduction of clinical hours in the United States costs an estimated $4.6 billion annually, according to a new study.

In a survey by The Physicians Foundation last year, 78 percent of physicians reported they “sometimes, often or always experience feelings of burnout.” Numerous efforts to combat the problem were recently announced in the medical community. In two examples, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center worked with the American Medical Association to identify steps for addressing physician burnout, and the California Medical Association and Stanford Medicine undertook a multimillion-dollar collaboration to provide support services and promote doctors’ well-being.

There’s a way for patients to help, too. We get the opportunity every time we interact with physicians and their staff. Just think how a positive interaction can help carry you through a tough day, while a negative encounter can sink your mood.

Physician burnout causes just as many, if not more, medical errors as unsafe medical workplace conditions, according to a Stanford University School of Medicine study. But research has also found that disruptive behaviors by so-called difficult patients can also cause physicians to make diagnostic errors. So why not do our best to help the people who are trying to help us?


Arrive early: Allow at least 15 minutes or more to fill out or update paperwork so that you will be settled and focused before your physician calls you in. Being early also helps ensure that blood pressure readings — usually the first thing they check — are accurate instead of falsely elevated by the stress of being late. If you have to cancel an appointment, give plenty of notice, and if it’s last minute because of circumstances out of your control, apologize.

Come prepared: Bring a list of your medications and the results of any new lab work or imaging. 

Silence your cellphone: Turn off the ringer, text alerts, and keyboard sounds. If you absolutely must take or make a call, let staff know and go outside. 

Be prepared for a delay: Bring a book, magazine, or tablet to occupy your time. Don’t take the delay out on your physician; things can happen that are out of their control. I always allow for delays by not scheduling anything within two hours of appointments.

Don’t pull the VIP card

Show up for your scheduled appointments. Don’t accost your doctors for medical advice or appointments if you bump into them in public. Treat them respectfully. Your internet research doesn’t replace their medical degree. It’s OK to inquire about a medication or treatment you heard about, but not to demand it based on your Google searches and limited knowledge. If you disagree with your physician’s assessment, then get a second opinion. Remember, just like it is never a good idea to bad-mouth previous employers to prospective new employers, neither is bad-mouthing former physicians. It won’t win you any points. 

Be nice

We wouldn’t be there if nothing was wrong, but take the time to ask how they are doing, how their day is going, or how their weekend was. I’ve found out interesting things about my doctors by engaging them in conversations on topics other than my health. One flies airplanes in his spare time; another shares my love of books and Greek mythology; and a third shares my interest in ancient Egypt and pointed me to an interesting exhibit he had attended. His tip led me to experience one of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had in my many trips over the years to see physicians at the Cleveland Clinic.  

Follow their advice

Don’t stop, start, or change the frequency of your prescription medications without consulting your physician. You may not always agree with their recommended course of treatment, but at least give it a try because it may help. If it doesn’t, your physician can move on and try something different.   

Thank them

Their goal is our goal: to improve our health. Let them know their efforts are appreciated. Thank them for seeing you. Remember them during the holidays and send a card or treat, if you are able. 


Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.

The post Physician Burnout: Helping Those Who Help Us appeared first on Sarcoidosis News.

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