On Doctors’ Day and every day: To improve care, meet physician needs

David O. Barbe, MD, MHA , Former President

The AMA knows physicians. We’ve focused our research tremendously in recent years, gaining insights to improve the delivery of care and improve health outcomes. We are also developing resources to help physicians navigate change, guiding practice transformation through hands-on tools, and challenging the status quo to improve tools in physician practices and our health system.

Today, on National Doctors’ Day—and every day—an energized, engaged and resilient physician workforce is essential to achieving national health goals. Physicians are doing tremendous work, harnessing and embracing new technologies to improve not just health care, but patient care. Yet, at the same time, burnout is more common among physicians than other U.S. workers, and that gap is increasing as the bureaucracy of modern medicine inflicts a mounting toll on physicians.

Physicians who report high professional satisfaction have patients who are more satisfied with their care. In fact, an AMA-RAND study found that physician burnout is driven primarily by barriers to providing high-quality care to patients in an efficient manner. The high volumes of clerical work, along with poorly designed technology, and the resultant time pressures are among the major drivers of alarming levels of physician burnout.

An AMA time-motion study found physician time is being taken away from patients due to the data entry demands of electronic medical records and other administrative desk work activities.

Unfortunately, the work-induced syndrome of burnout and caregiver fatigue among physicians is a real and growing problem. Studies show that burned out physicians are retiring early, reducing the time they devote to clinical work, or leaving medicine entirely. To all of us who practice medicine, it is clear that physicians spend too much time on administrative tasks.

To help physicians succeed in their life's work of caring for patients, the AMA has made the prevention of burnout a core priority. Working with CEOs of health care 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 health care system. This push for change 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.

The clear correlation between physician well-being and successful health-system transformation led to an explicit AMA action. At the 2016 AMA Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates adopted policy on the quadruple aim, adding “the goal of improving the work-life balance of physicians and other health care providers” to the existing triple aim of improving population health and patients’ care experiences while cutting per capital health care costs.

The AMA’s work goes further, supporting programs to assist physicians in the early identification and management of stress, with a focus on the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of responding to stress in physicians' professional and personal lives.

The AMA is striving to help physicians cope with the real challenges of providing quality patient care in today’s environment, arming them with relevant, cutting-edge tools, information and resources, and—in so doing—rekindle a joy in medicine.

The AMA STEPS Forward™ collection of practice-improvement strategies helps physicians make transformative changes to their practices. It offers modules on preventing physician burnout in practicepreventing resident and fellow burnout and improving physician resiliency.

Through its ongoing work, the AMA is committed to help physicians and their practices thrive so they can continue to put patients first. By advancing initiatives that enhance efficiency, professional satisfaction, and the delivery of care, the AMA is striving to help physicians navigate and succeed in a continually evolving health care profession.