New AMA Policy to Help Identify Physician Burnout, Reduce Suicide

Samara Rosenfeld
NOVEMBER 16, 2018

Burnout has claimed the lives of many physicians and medical students. Image licensed by Maridov - Fotolia

The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted a new policy that is designed to help identify patterns that could predict and prevent suicide among physicians in training. The policy calls on the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to collect data on medical student, resident and fellow suicides.

>> READ: Fixing Physician Burnout Is More Than Just the Decent Thing to Do

“We believe that collecting data on the incidence of suicide among physicians in training will help us identify the systemic factors that contribute to this problem, and ultimately save lives,” AMA Board Member Ryan J. Ribeira, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement.

The policy is the newest in a string of initiatives that the AMA launched to better the health of physicians and medical students.

In 2013, the AMA launched the Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability initiative, which partners physicians, leaders and policymakers with the AMA to reduce the complexity and cost of practicing medicine. This is meant to allow physicians to put their patients first. The AMA also launched a program called Steps Forward, which enables physicians to participate in modules aimed to improve mental health.

With 400 physicians and 100 medical students committing suicide each year, physicians face the highest rate of suicide than any profession in the U.S., according to the AMA. Although this number alone is alarming, physician burnout can also be detrimental to patients. Burnt-out physicians are more likely to be involved in safety incidents and receive suboptimal care, studies have suggested.

Technology has been playing a large part in the medical industry, and its rise has come with elevated job dissatisfaction among physicians Electronic health record (EHR) systems have emerged as the most obvious pain points.

“We think that the electronic health record dysfunction is a symptom of the burnout,” AMA President Barbara L. McAneny, M.D., said in a recent interview.

With about two-third of physicians’ compensation being either directly or indirectly tied to productivity and the use of work relative value units (RVUs), physicians are spending about 52 percent of their time managing EHRs, and just 32 percent on medical care. “Physicians spend 41 minutes out of every hour documenting in front of a computer screen instead of building face-to-face rapport with their patients,” Arlene Sujin Chung, M.D., recently told Healthcare Analytics News™. The increased clerical burden has resulted in increased burnout, but Chung said optimizing EHR systems, providing scribes and hiring physician assistants are just some ways to improve physician well-being.

“To all of us who practice medicine, it is clear that physicians spend too much time on administrative tasks that don’t require the expertise of a M.D. or D.O.,” McAneny told Healthcare Analytics News ™ this week.

Physicians have incentives to have quick turnover times with patients and to be more productive, but productivity does not necessarily yield accuracy.

McAneny is still a believer in using technology in the medical industry, though, and her organization is working to make EHRs and other innovations better serve physicians and patients alike.

“The AMA push for meaningful change in the health system has a clear purpose: Patients deserve the full and undivided attention of their physicians, populations deserve access to care, and society deserves more from its investment in medical education,” she said. “Working with health system leaders of healthcare delivery organizations, the AMA is leading a necessary change in medicine that embraces physician well-being as a critical factor in the long-term clinical and economic success of our nation’s healthcare system.”

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