A Q&A with Doris Gundersen, MD
by CMS staff report
Featured in the March/April 2016 Colorado Medicine.
The latest statistics on physician burnout from the Mayo Clinic show this troubling trend is on the rise: 45.5 percent of physicians admitted to at least one symptom of burnout in 2011 while 54.4 percent admitted to burnout in 2014. A November 2013 study conducted by the American Medical Association and the RAND Corporation found that being able to provide high-quality care to their patients is the primary reason for job satisfaction among physicians, while obstacles to doing so are a key source of stress.
Given the results of the managed care survey featured in this issue’s cover story, Colorado Medicine asked Doris C. Gundersen, MD, medical director for the Colorado Physician Health Program, to talk about how physician wellness may be linked to administrative burden on physicians, particularly interactions with payers.
Colorado Medicine (CM): How is physician satisfaction affected by interactions with payers and administrative requirements?
Doris Gundersen (DG): Physicians are happiest when they can devote their skill and expertise to providing high-quality medical care to their patients. Mounting administrative burdens, whether time spent appealing treatment denials or attempting to negotiate fair contracts with major insurance carriers, takes away from their devotion to patients and leads to overall dissatisfaction.
CM: Do you believe the proposed insurance mergers would negatively affect physician satisfaction? Why or why not?
DG: Insurance mergers reduce competition and choice and create an unequal power differential, for physicians as well as patients. Faced with the ongoing responsibility of providing excellent patient care with less autonomy, fewer resources and little power to advocate for needed change, physicians will experience significant stress and burnout.
CM: What is the danger of physician burnout, specifically as it relates to a physician’s ability to care for patients?
DG: Burnout is not just a matter of feeling dissatisfied or unhappy. Burnout is a very serious syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, personal detachment and a lost sense of efficacy. Burnout has the potential to interfere with the delivery of quality medical care through inefficiencies and errors.
CM: What happens to a physician suffering from burnout – emotionally, physically, in his/her career or personal life?
DG: A physician experiencing burnout is a physician in a lot of pain. He or she feels completely depleted, hopeless and ineffective. The joy usually experienced helping patients is lost. Tragically, if burnout is not recognized and treated, a physician may decide to leave the profession altogether.