Physician burnout is an industry-wide affliction. Last year, 47% of physicians reported feeling burned out, according to MedScape’s 2021 Burnout and Depression Report.

At its root, doctor burnout is about physicians being crushed under the weight of an industry that keeps adding items to physicians’ “task lists” while not adding any extra hours to their days. While changing the nature of the medical industry is a lofty goal, there is something doctors can do today to relieve some of the pressure that is contributing to burnout – bringing on help via virtual staffing. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is a psychological syndrome caused by the overuse of a person’s mental and emotional resources. Burnout is characterized by symptoms such as: 

  • Feeling overextended 
  • Emotional exhaustion 
  • Hostile attitude 
  • Detached feelings toward patients 
  • Feelings of incompetence 
  • Negative self-appraisal  

What are the causes of physician burnout?

The medical industry puts extreme pressure on doctors to take on more patients, spend less time with each patient, and maximize practice profit, all while juggling an ever-growing amount of medical-related paperwork and regulations. This pressure makes physicians more likely to develop burnout than any other profession. 

The most commonly reported causes of physician burnout include: 

  • Poor work/life balance 
  • Pressure to increase earnings for the practice/healthcare group 
  • Low patient satisfaction scores 
  • Too much time spent at the office
  • Excessive workload
  • Long hours 
  • Too much time and effort spend on tedious medical EMR updates 
  • Anxiety about malpractice lawsuits 
  • Inefficient use of time due to administrative constraints 
  • Lack of support from colleagues 

Who is most likely to suffer from professional burnout?

Certain physicians are at a greater risk of experiencing professional burnout than others. A study titled Relationship Between Clerical Burden and Characteristics of the Electronic Environment With Physician Burnout and Professional Satisfaction reported that, in a national survey of physicians across all specialties, physicians who use electronic health records and computerized physician order entry were at increased risk of professional exhaustion because they feel stress around wasting time on clerical work when they should be seeing patients. 

Also, physicians working in specialties at the front line of care are more likely to experience burnout, such as physicians in emergency medicine, general internal medicine, neurology, and family medicine.

Consequences of doctor burnout

When a physician starts to feel burned out, a cascade of negative consequences may follow. These range from negative interactions with clinic staff to leaving the career altogether with early retirement. In some cases, burnout may lead to decreased patient safety and quality of care, as burnout tends to include symptoms such as impaired attention, cognition, memory, and decision-making skills. 

Virtual staffing can help prevent doctor burnout in three ways

While hiring a virtual receptionist, virtual medical billing specialist, or virtual medical assistant can’t change the overall structure of the high-pressure medical industry, it can streamline some of the everyday hassles that keep doctors from focusing on the part of medicine that they find nurturing and fulfilling — caring for patients. 

Here are three ways virtual staffing can prevent doctor burnout: 

1. A virtual assistant can lighten the workload

A medical virtual assistant can tackle nearly any task a physician would prefer to delegate. On a busy day of seeing patients, many doctors simply lack the time and energy to deal with updating EMRs, documenting patient visits, and taking care of all the myriad admin tasks that are critically important to running a practice … but can feel like time-wasting inefficiency to a physician who has dedicated his or her life to the practice of medicine, not the practice of running a practice. 

A virtual medical assistant can take over responsibility for nearly any task required, including: 

  • Answering phone calls 
  • Making appointments 
  • Processing insurance claims 
  • Responding to online inquiries 
  • Taking notes during patient appointments 
  • Updating EMRs 

With a virtual assistant handling many of the doctor’s tedious admin tasks, the physician can recover hours each day that were previously dedicated to this type of work. Even better, the tasks that are left for the physician are the ones they love – dealing with patients. Fewer tasks overall and more time invested in fulfilling tasks means a lower stress level for the physician and a lower risk of burnout. 

2. Virtual assistants can help the practice earn more money

Staffing is one of the most expensive aspects of operating a medical practice. To cut costs and increase profits, many physicians opt to run a lean staff and take on more of the administrative tasks themselves, which can lead to burnout. 

Fortunately, virtual medical assistants are paid only a fraction of the cost of an in-house employee. Whereas an in-person receptionist, medical billing specialist, or medical assistant can cost as much as $40/hour in some locations, virtual staff members generally are paid around $10/hour.

Adding virtual staff members can relieve the heavy task burden on the physician, preventing burnout and increasing efficiency with only a minor increase in practice overhead. This frees up the physician to take on more income-generating responsibilities such as seeing patients, rather than spending their valuable time on non-income-generating tasks like updating EMRs.

3. Virtual assistants increase patient satisfaction

When a physician works hard to build a practice and reputation, negative feedback from patients can cut to the core of their own identity, contributing to a negative self-image and professional burnout. But what patients most often complain about is not the quality of the doctor, but the lack of customer service their doctor’s office provides. 

Common negative feedback from patients includes: 

  1. Long wait times in the office 
  2. Short appointments (not enough time with the doctor)
  3. Not having their calls answered 
  4. Insurance/billing issues 
  5. Lack of communication with their provider 

Except for insurance/billing, all of these complaints are centered around office staff and providers simply lacking time to do their jobs effectively. Adding a virtual employee to the practice can help take the pressure off existing staff, which gives them time to return phone calls, spend more time with patients, and keep up communication with patients — all of which lead to better customer satisfaction and less stress for the provider. 

Want to reduce provider stress with a virtual medical assistant?

MedVa helps doctors all over the country improve their work lives and stress levels with top-level media virtual assistants. Book a call here with MedVa today. 

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