Burnout is a serious concern among healthcare professionals, impacting clinician efficiency and patient safety. Radiology is one of the specialties with a high incidence of provider burnout. The 2018 Medscape National Physician burnout and Depression report ranked radiology the seventh highest specialty for burnout, higher than in 2017 and 2016. Many radiology practices rely on radiology transcription services to manage their EHR documentation workload. A new survey has found a high incidence of burnout among radiology practice leaders.
The survey was conducted by researchers from the University MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Radiology in Houston and published by the Journal of the American College of Radiology. The team reported that more than 50% of radiology practice leaders consider burnout a “very significant problem”. Overall, 71% reported stress due to workplace factors. Other important findings:
- 22% of respondents reported that burnout was a “significant” problem.
- Burnout did not vary by geographical region but varied by practice size.
- 37% of respondents who led a practice of five or fewer radiologists cited burnout as a serious problem compared to 71% among practices with 50 radiologists or more.
- 36% said stress from personal or social factors affected radiologist employee wellness “very significantly”. These factors were statistically significant by region, practice size and practice type.
- Both personal and social factors varied by geographical region, practice size, and practice type
- Only 19% of practice leader respondents said they had mechanisms to deal with burnout; 21% reported they had “very effective mechanisms” to address the problem.
The team concluded that “radiologist burnout as perceived by practice leaders continues to be a significant profession issue”.
An article in Diagnostic Imaging discussed various strategies that radiologists and organizations can implement to combat burnout.
What radiologists can do:
- Radiologists need to renew their faith in their profession and think about why they chose the field and why it is so important. Radiology services have a deep impact on people’s health.
- Thinking positive is crucial. Practising positive psychology includes understanding that failures are just transient and focusing on plus points including long and short-term achievements.
What organizations can do:
- Change the work environment culture so that radiologists with more time for exercise as well as rest.
- Change assessment structure – Experts recommend moving away from Relative Value Units (RVU) productivity as sole assessment of physician effectiveness. According to them, radiologists would benefit through compensation structuredon just on productivity but also elements such as participation in hospital committees, respect from referring clinicians, and teaching activities.
- Reduce administrative tasks – Bureaucratic tasks can be extremely challenging for radiologists. Frequent work breaks, opening reading rooms, and ensuring ergonomic workstations can help relieve physician stress and also strengthen team relationships. Organizations also need good leaders who can communicate well and solve problems.
- Enhance independence and control – The ACH HR Commission identified lack of control or autonomy as one of the key reasons for burnout among radiologists. In fact, larger groups result in less independence and more focus on measures of productivity. Giving physicians more control or autonomy can boost their morale.
- Focus on radiology burnout in national physician meetings. Sharing best practices and research and demonstrate their significance on a national level. Experts also recommend developing curricula to teach wellness principles.
The need to demonstrate value under the pay for performance model has also put radiology practices under a lot of pressure to showcase their contribution to medicine. However, experts say that it is difficult for radiologists to define and demonstrate value. An article in Radiology Business cites a Stanford radiologist as saying that defining value in diagnostic radiology is challenging for many reasons, especially because most radiologists focus their efforts on diagnosis and treatment decisions usually made by other providers.
“The higher rate of practice-level mechanisms to assess burnout in larger practices may reflect higher awareness of this issue among practice leadership; there continues to be a need for practice-level strategies to mitigate it”, wrote the Houston researchers.
Addressing burnout among radiologists is critical to improve provider efficiency and patient care. The ACR has developed the Radiology Wellness Being Program to provide a diverse range of resources for practice leaders and their radiologists across all practice types” (www.canhealth.com). Medical transcription companies help radiology practices manage electronic health records, which is important for documenting and communicating results, and following up on reports.