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Challenges That Lead to Provider Burnout Among Clinicians

Long hours, stress, and worry about clients or patients have always been part of the job. But unfortunately, provider burnout is now on the rise.

The most recent data indicates a 24% increase in providers who exhibit at least one manifestation of burnout and a 16% decline in provider satisfaction. While the strain that COVID-19 put on the healthcare system for over two years is partly to blame for these numbers, it is not the only reason for an increase in burnout. The job of a healthcare provider is stressful and can lead anyone on the road to burnout.

The consequences of this increase in provider burnout are serious for both the provider and their organization. For providers, untreated burnout can lead to fatigue, depression, and even suicidal ideation. For organizations, it can lead to inefficiencies and decreased quality of care.

To help organizations combat this burnout epidemic, we’ll cover tips that leaders and their staff can use to overcome burnout. But first, let’s look at how to spot staff members experiencing this condition.

Looking for your next podcast? Check out Relias’ new podcast, Vitals and Vision, and our episode on provider burnout!

Signs of provider burnout

To help staff members remain content and fulfilled in their roles, healthcare leaders need to know the signs and symptoms of burnout. Though the level to which an individual exhibits these signs will vary from person to person, there are universal indicators of burnout.

The signs of provider burnout are:

  • Sense of reduced accomplishment characterized by ineffectiveness, inefficiency, and a perceived lack of value in their work.
  • This is when providers start feeling emotionally distant or detached from their clients or patients, feel like life is “less real,” or they may feel numb.
  • Emotional exhaustion. This results in a lack of empathy or emotional reserve for persons

Causes of provider burnout

Most providers get into their field to do meaningful work and help others. However, the realities may include long work hours, an organizational focus on billing and insurance reimbursement, lack of respect from colleagues and leadership, a lack of autonomy, and other common challenges.

Expectations vs. reality

Provider burnout happens among physicians, clinicians, and direct care staff alike. As healthcare is increasingly run more like a traditional business, there can be a disconnect for the care provider who was initially drawn to health care as a caring profession. This often creates a divide between how they thought they might spend their day versus the reality of how their time is actually spent.

“The work environment often doesn’t match the intrinsic drive that led them to become a healthcare professional.”
– Carol Clayton, PhD

Of course, time is spent providing care, but there are also administrative burdens like documentation and other tasks that must be done to keep the organization running. Too much time spent on administrative tasks can lead to burnout for those currently in caring professions, and it can serve as a deterrent to those interested in entering the healthcare profession.

Regulation and financial, administrative hurdles

From a financial perspective, the rates don’t always stretch far enough to pay for services supporting a whole-person approach. Those working with individuals with substance use disorders, for example, know that dependency doesn’t exist in isolation.

For people who are substance dependent, they often experience pain, have psychiatric overlay, are using multiple substances, or have other chronic health conditions that haven’t been properly treated. And for those providing direct care and support services, funding is often at risk and rarely allows for surplus.

The ability to take a whole-person approach, in terms of funding and being able to support yourself as a professional, a caregiver, or as a business, is more challenging because sometimes the revenue doesn’t match the cost.

The impact of COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it has left irrevocable scars among healthcare providers. Already long days became longer, the number of patients and clients ballooned beyond the number of available providers, and healthcare professionals (no matter their field) witnessed the suffering of the people they serve.

All these conditions placed providers at increased risk for depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and an inability to feel that work made a difference. Put together, this resulted in 330,000 healthcare workers leaving their jobs in 2021 alone.

Tips to avoid provider burnout

There are numerous factors that impact provider burnout. Therefore, it makes the most sense to combine individual and institutional mitigation strategies to help improve the growing problem in the U.S.

Self-care and teamwork

Sharing with others is key to reducing the burdens of stress that lead to provider burnout – especially when you are working with vulnerable populations. Creating a system or organization where other peers join you as a care team can be critical, and it reduces stress since individual providers are not shouldering the entire burden.

As with anyone who experiences stress, stress management and protecting your mental health is crucial for the provider and the best inoculation against burnout. Making time for self-care must be a priority.

Some coping mechanisms you can try include:

  • Taking your paid time off (PTO)
  • Seeing your own therapist/counselor to help process work stress
  • Keeping healthy professional boundaries, and work with your supervisor to maintain boundaries so you are not over-filling your plate at work
  • Going to your supervisor or other peers with case reviews to ensure you are not becoming overwhelmed by a particularly challenging client/patient

Employee assistance programs

An often-under-utilized tool is the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These employer-sponsored programs offer resources for providers ranging from debt reduction programs to mental health counseling.

The EAP can help retain the individual who is stressed or burning out, and the onus is on the employer to strongly encourage their staff to take advantage of the EAP benefits.

Employers should promote these services with great regularity and offer providers an easy way to discuss their stress with a qualified professional. Organizations should go beyond simply offering the services but also encourage providers and caregivers to take full advantage by incentivizing usage.

Creating a Trauma-Informed System of Care

Trauma-informed care (TIC) has become a widely recognized paradigm for creating safe spaces for individuals who have experienced trauma and reducing the likelihood that accessing services would cause re-traumatization. The impact of TIC on individuals and organizations is powerful, and this approach has shown to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms - including burnout! Download the e-book to learn more.

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