EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second piece in a series of articles on the issue of burnout among healthcare professionals – a problem leading medical experts say is not only increasing in prevalence, but also intensity. During the coming month, several of these experts will be making appearances on Talk-Ten-Tuesdays, the weekly Internet radio broadcast focusing on all things ICD-10.
If there’s any silver lining to the fact that upwards of half of physicians have reported feeling burned out on the job during recent surveys, it’s this: they’re not alone.
Coders are encountering the same level of difficulty, nationally renowned psychiatrist H. Steven Moffic, MD said during last week’s edition of Talk-Ten-Tuesdays.
“Coders seem smack in the middle of the business of care of patients,” Moffic said, “(and) getting caught in the middle is always difficult.”
Three sample questions in particular can help determine whether anyone in any field is experiencing burnout, Moffic added: Are you working more now and enjoying it less? Must you force yourself to do routine things? And are you resigned about your future?
“These questions were actually all designed by the psychologist who first coined the term ‘burnout’ in 1974. If you answered yes to any of them, you may be burning out,” Moffic said. “Whatever way burnout is defined and no matter which screening questions are used, it is increasing most among healthcare workers. Most likely that is due to trying to balance healthcare ethics with business ethics.”
Moffic described a worst-case scenario as a work environment where those in charge don’t care about worker burnout and have failed to put any wellness programs in place. But he pointed out that addressing the issue doesn’t require the support of your employers.
“Whether this or another situation, what can you still do on your own? Lots, including being able to control your mind to develop some antidotes to burning out,” Moffic said. “(But) the antidotes do not include self-medicating with alcohol or caffeine.”
Finding ways to wind down, both at work and at home, are the key, according to Moffic – take whatever breaks are possible while on the job, he said, and make the most of your vacation days and time at home. It’s what he calls a “mantra of periodic reassurance,” whereby endeavors such as exercise, hobbies, and socializing all take on a more important role in one’s life.
“After work it is crucial to find ways to replenish your spark, preferably offline,” Moffic said. “Find a support system with someone who will tell you if they think you are burning out, because it often develops insidiously.”
Moffic, who will be accepting the Administrative Psychiatrist Award during the American Psychiatric Association’s annual Mental Health Services meeting in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 6, said the issue of burnout is more critical than ever not only because it’s becoming more prevalent, but also in light of a troubling new study.
“(There is) research that suggests that the brains of those with significant burnout may look like those who had early, severe trauma,” Moffic wrote in an email to Talk-Ten-Tuesdays broadcaster and ICD10monitor Publisher Chuck Buck. “Diagnostic and treatment implications may be huge if this holds up. If burnout turns out to be more of a variation of PTSD, that makes it even more worrisome and difficult to treat.”