Massachusetts Medical Society: Massachusetts Medical Society survey raises concern about stability of state’s physician workforce

Massachusetts Medical Society survey raises concern about stability of state’s physician workforce

WALTHAM – A survey conducted by the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) raised serious concerns about the stability of the state’s physician workforce and revealed concerning levels of burnout and a heightened desire among physicians in the state to leave medical practice, with specific demographics at greater risk of occupational distress.

The MMS developed the member survey to assess burnout and identify specific drivers of stress for MMS members of various demographic groups to provide general insights regarding the state of physician well-being in the Commonwealth. The MMS analyzed the survey data and recently published a paper titled "Supporting MMS Physicians’ Well-being Report: Recommendations to Address the Ongoing Crisis.”

Data collected from the more than 500 members who completed the survey concluded that 55 percent of respondents experienced symptoms that reach the threshold for burnout.

Fifty percent of physicians have already reduced their clinical effort or are “definitely” or “likely” to reduce their clinical hours before June of 2023. About one in four plan to leave medicine in the next two years.

The data suggest that more attention is needed on the occupational well-being of particular groups, including women, physicians of color, underrepresented physicians and younger physicians.

“The scourge of physician burnout and compromised well-being among physicians and members of the health care team remains a threat to public health and patient care. The unprecedented stress placed upon health care workers and the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic expectedly exacerbated an already troubling situation,” Massachusetts Medical Society president Dr. Ted Calianos said.

“It’s critical that we reduce administrative burdens and improve workplace support and culture so that physicians can focus on caring for patients,” said Dr. Susannah Rowe, MPH, a lead author on the report, ophthalmologist and Associate Chief Medical Officer for Wellness and Professional Vitality at Boston Medical Center, and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Boston University Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine. “Importantly, to achieve meaningful change, we must intentionally address the particular workplace challenges faced by younger doctors, female physicians and physicians of color.”

The top five work-related stressors, according to responses collected were: increased documentation requirements (not always related to clinical care); lack of support staff for non-medical tasks; time spent dealing with prior authorization; overreach of non-medical administrators in medical decision-making and resource allocation; and turnover of clinical and/or non-clinical staff.

The MMS recommended that stakeholders aim to reduce workplace stressors, address staffing issues in health care, support the viability of physician practices and confront excessive administrative burden and complexities and support the well-being of physicians.

“The survey results are not wholly surprising nor inconsistent with what is happening across the country, but they are distressing,” Calianos said. “During recent years, stakeholders have made earnest and consistent efforts to enact the fundamental and systemic changes required to decrease burnout and its effects, but, clearly, there is much work to be done. Particularly urgent is the need to work harder to address the professional well-being of and recruitment and retention of physicians from underrepresented populations.”

The Massachusetts Medical Society in January of 2019 was among the first heath care organizations in the United States to confront physician burnout when it joined with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Health Institute, and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association has deemed the condition a public health crisis.

At the time of the declaration, the organizations penned a groundbreaking paper, “A Crisis in Health Care: A Call to Action on Physician Burnout,” that included recommendations and directives minimizing burnout among physicians and other care providers.

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