The epidemic of physician burnout

By | 2 minute read | August 14, 2019

Physicians bear a large responsibility in caring for patients, and their role has always involved a certain level of stress.

But the startling rise of physician burnout rates across the healthcare industry has alarmed many experts who are concerned about the consequences for patients, physicians and organizations alike. A recent survey of more than 15,000 physicians conducted by Medscape revealed that 42 percent reported feeling burned out. Among the radiologists surveyed, 45 percent reported burnout — one of the highest rates of burnout by specialty.1

What’s causing physician burnout?

There are several factors causing physicians to feel burned out, such as long work hours or lack of autonomy. But the primary cause is widely agreed upon: too many bureaucratic tasks. In the Medscape survey, it was the most common contributing factor of burnout, cited by over half of burned-out physicians. All the charting, paperwork, and other non-value-added tasks are taking up too much time and causing a lot of frustration.

The administrative burden has gotten worse primarily because of electronic health record (EHR) systems. EHRs are intended to ease the burden of healthcare’s data explosion and make patient records easier to share, but they are often complex and non-user-friendly — they’re complicating workflows rather than simplifying them.

It’s no wonder that so many physicians are burned out: They feel like they spend an excessive amount of time on administrative tasks and far too little on what they were actually trained to do: care for their patients.

Good news: There are solutions to burnout

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent burnout or reduce it when it occurs. A growing body of cross-sectional studies has provided evidence of effective measures to reduce the problem at both the organizational and individual levels, according to a report in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

Effective measures to combat burnout include:2

  • Limits to physician on-duty hours
  • Optimization of workflows and nonphysician staff support for administrative tasks
  • Leadership and communication training for physicians
  • Establishment of physician communities and forums
  • Stress management and mindfulness practices for physicians

Since EHRs will not be going away anytime soon, their contribution to physician burnout must also be addressed. An Advisory Board article recommended two ways that organizations can mitigate the EHR’s role in physician burnout:3

  1. Examine data from the EHR to identify physicians who would benefit from training on how to use the system more efficiently.
  1. Identify ways the EHR can be customized to solve workflow problems and consider additional resources that may help physicians, such as voice recognition to speed up documentation.

IBM Watson Health offers solutions that can reduce physician burnout by customizing radiology workflows, automating the collection of patient information and even using AI to surface relevant patient data from the EHR.

Visit our physician solutions page to learn more.



  1. Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018. Medscape.
  2. Physician burnout: contributors, consequences and solutions. Journal of Internal Medicine. Volume 283, Issue 6. pp 516-529. June 2018.
  3. The solution to physician burnout? EHR optimization. Advisory Board. May 2018.
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