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What can we do to stop physician burnout in Canada?

by Stephen Kish

We all know about the long wait times when we visit family doctors in Canada.

This is a special problem in psychiatry as most psychiatric help is provided by these first line treatment providers.

Now we are told that physician “burnout” (exhaustion, cynicism, and low professional accomplishment) will only make matters worse and the lines longer.

Carolyn Dewa, who heads the CAMH Centre for Research on Employment and Workplace Mental Health, and Dr. Philip Jacobs from the Institute of Health Economics in Alberta recently published an estimate in BMC Health Services Research of the percentage of physicians in Canada who are suffering from burnout and the consequences associated with this stress.

Family physicians treated about 113 patients per week. About 35 per cent of family physicians, at all age groups, experienced some burnout and were dissatisfied, with 14 per cent of those in the 55 to 64 year old group planning to reduce clinic hours and 31 percent planning to retire.

Drs. Dewa and Jacobs estimate that the physician burnout will take $213 million out of our healthcare system due to early retirement and reduced clinic hours.

So, what is the answer? Find more money to hire more physicians?

A “front line physician” writing for a conservative newspaper recently recommended that Canada’s entire health care system itself be overhauled by moving to a combination private-public payer system in order to reduce demand for services.

In a non-scientific survey, I walked down the hall and asked a few CAMH clinicians for their solutions to physician burnout.

Their response:

  • More rest and relaxation
  • More working in groups than being isolated
  • Stress reduction and relaxation therapy
  • Implementation of user-friendly electronic medical record systems to streamline reporting

If we believe that the present cannot be sustained, what then is the answer to physician burnout?

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Luise Wood #

    As a Primary Healthcare Nurse Practitioner working in a Nurse Practitioner -Led Clinic in York Region, my role includes primary healthcare for residence of Georgina. Within this role, I am providing front line screening, counseling and treatment for those with mental health illness . Our team has collaborative relationships with GPs and
    a psychiatrist ( they provide consultations anywhere from weekly to once per 3 months ). Nurse Practitioners offer excellent care to those with mental health illness; this includes conditions such as depression , anxiety, schizophrenia , bipolar disorder ( and more). The Nurse Practitioner is an excellent solution to help with physician burnout.
    In order to benefit all, NPs and MDs can share the privilege, the responsibility and the work load.

    July 23, 2014
  2. Carolyn Dewa #

    We indeed should be looking for ways to decrease the risk of burnout. Collaborative care has been one of the effective models used to deliver mental health services in primary care.

    July 24, 2014
  3. J #

    Making investments in non-medical ways to improve quality of life for both people labeled with mental illness and people without those labels can help reduce physician visits in general across the board. Work-life balance is important for physicians too. The non medical investments can be just as successful if not more so than psychiatric treatment, and people should be aware of these options and supported to do so. Creating art, getting together with friends, caring for the environment — these and more can all be really helpful for many people and we need more options for funding and providing transportation to these non-medical but very important activities.

    July 28, 2014
  4. Amanda #

    Lower the cost of education. Most people cant afford the education to become a Physician. Even with the help of OSAP.

    August 13, 2014

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