What’s adding to doctor burnout? Check your patient portal inbox

Marc Zarefsky , Contributing News Writer

More than 60% of physicians across the U.S. are experiencing some sign of burnout, which presents a tremendous challenge to the nation's health system. That number reverses a six-year trend of falling burnout rates, and it's a seismic leap from the 38% of doctors who reported burnout just one year earlier. 

The AMA is advocating for you

The AMA has achieved recent wins in 5 critical areas for physicians.

"Satisfaction in the role of being a physician has really dropped," said Christine Sinsky, MD, the vice president of professional satisfaction for the AMA.

Physician burnout is estimated to cost more than $5 billion a year—and that is a conservative estimate, Dr. Sinsky said.

While those statistics are concerning, Dr. Sinsky said opportunities exist to prevent burnout and provide support to physicians. She discussed that and more in a recent episode of “AMA Update.”

Related Coverage

4 quick-win changes in the EHR free up hours weekly for doctors

A survey of more than 20,000 U.S. physicians and other health professionals found that feeling a lack of control was a major factor associated with burnout. Three-quarters of physicians who felt they had little control over their work environment experienced burnout. By contrast, only 39% of physicians who said they had control at work said they experienced burnout,

Dr. Sinsky said outright control was not the only category with that type of percentage discrepancy.

"We find similar data for those who have chaotic versus nonchaotic work environments," said Dr. Sinsky, who co-wrote the survey. "Burnout rates are about half in those who rate their work environment as not chaotic. Likewise, if you have strong teamwork, you're much less likely to be burned out. And if you feel valued by your organization, you're much less likely to be burned out."

Excessive time spent working in the EHR has been cited as a cause for burnout among doctors, and Dr. Sinsky explained that is particularly true for women, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Dr. Sinsky, women in primary care spend 108 minutes more in the EHR than their male counterparts for every eight hours of patient schedule time.

"The EHR is more time-consuming for women," she said, "and over the course of the pandemic, that has gotten worse for women at a greater rate than for men."

Reducing physician burnout is a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

Far too many American physicians experience burnout. That's why the AMA develops resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters—patient care.

For example, the AMA “Taming the EHR Playbook” gives physicians and others access to key steps, best practices and resources to save time and reduce the burden of EHR work. 

Members save on health & wellness

AMA members get worldwide access to thousands of top-rated gyms, fitness studios and spas from ClassPass.

Related Coverage

Simple tips to help physicians master the patient portal inbox

One area where physicians can use support to fight burnout is in their inbox. Physicians today receive 57% more patient portal messages than they did prior to the pandemic.

"The number of low-value notifications that are clogging up the inbox for physicians has just become unmanageable," Dr. Sinsky said. "Physicians say: I cannot give up several hours of my personal time every night to clearing out my inbox."

The AMA is focused on helping physicians better understand and manage inbox overload. Dr. Sinsky said several research projects on inbox usage are underway, and the AMA is co-sponsoring an open national conference on April 27, 2023, at the University of Southern California concentrated on solutions to inbox overwhelm.

The AMA also has created an inbox-reduction checklist as part of the AMA STEPS Forward® resource collection. The goal is to give physicians and health system leaders practical steps to substantially cut the volume of incoming messages, Dr. Sinsky said.

AMA Update” covers health care topics affecting the lives of physicians and patients. Hear from physicians and experts on public health, advocacy issues, scope of practice and more—because who’s doing the talking matters. You can catch every episode by subscribing to the AMA’s YouTube channel or the audio-only podcast version, which also features educational presentations and in-depth discussions.