Feeling the Burn: When Physicians Are Stressed, Patients Are Less Safe. Here Are 4 Strategies for Reducing Burnout Among OBGYNs

Feeling the Burn: When Physicians Are Stressed, Patients Are Less Safe. Here Are 4 Strategies for Reducing Burnout Among OBGYNs

Value-Based Care, Providers

When physicians are more stressed, patients are less safe. This makes sense intuitively, but the science also backs it up. In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in JAMA showed that clinician burnout can double the odds that a patient receives unsafe and/or unsatisfactory care. 

Each year in the United States, medical errors result in over 120,000 hospitalizations and produce costs of over $42 billion. Burnout plays a large role in these unnecessary outcomes. As an example, when looking at medication errors less than 25 percent are due to mistakes, slips or lapses, while the majority are associated with personal factors such as stress, fatigue, multi-tasking and distractions. Mayo Clinic estimates that burnout costs the U.S. healthcare system $4.6 billion annually. 

In a report by Medscape, 72 percent of OBGYNs who reported burnout admitted it was having at least a moderate impact on them, while one out of ten said the impact was so severe, they were considering a departure from the practice of medicine.

Given the direct relationship burnout has on patient safety, this is a big deal for maternity care. ACOG estimates the burnout rate among OBGYNs to be between 40–75 percent. And more stress is on the way. In the Medscape study, 72 percent of OBGYNs are anxious about the future. As we’ve mentioned before, the increasing demands on Ob-Gyns are fueling, and exacerbating, a shortage of providers nationally. ACOG predicts a deficit of 22,000 providers by the year 2050. 

Among the top contributors to stress levels for OBGYNs are increasing bureaucratic tasks, increasing patient panels, longer work hours, insufficient reimbursement and increasing computerization of their practices. All of these factors are continuing to apply pressure. Additionally, the pandemic ushered in unprecedented energy for both virtual and value-based care, so now practices must be fluent in both remote and in-person care and execute on population health strategies. And the stress mounts. 

“It’s no secret that there is a lot of dissatisfaction across the medical professional community,” said Dr. Sue Gross, president and CEO of The OBG Project, during a panel on value-based care at the World Health Care Congress. “Many physicians feel isolated and alone.” 

Before we address ways to reduce the stress of practicing medicine, we must acknowledge that practicing medicine is stressful. Ensuring there are formal resources and support for providers to encourage self-care is a critical first step. But obviously, we must also systematically address our current realities in order to ease admin burden and increase effectiveness and efficiency of care delivery.



So how do we systematically help OBGYN providers reduce stress and burnout? Below are four necessary strategies.

Support the shift

With the quickening transition from volume to value-based care, we need to keep in mind that OBGYNs need support to make the shift. This includes flexible program designs with varying degrees of financial risk, access to additional data and tools and the opportunity to engage in collaborative relationships with payers. OBGYNs are not fully equipped to move from fee-for-service to risk-based agreements alone. 

Do no harm

From digitizing patient intake forms to conducting virtual visits, technology is facilitating a new way for practices to work. Yet it is still critically important that technological advancements be based on existing clinical workflows. Historically, that has been a mixed bag in healthcare. “The fear is always whether technology will make it better or just be another obstacle,” said Dr. Gross. “But if you harness top-shelf technology, that at its core is designed to support the patient-physician relationship, it can be a win for doctors and their patients.” 

Simply put, in the process of helping practices advance, we must first do no harm. This includes leveraging technology that is designed with physicians and their workflows in mind, and as Dr. Gross points out, centered on deepening the relationship they have with patients. 

Bridge the Gaps

Whether it’s engaging and educating patients between visits, remotely monitoring for elevated health risks or ensuring that all patients have access to the right resources, providers need digital tools to create better connectivity with patients when they aren’t in the office. These tools can help triage patients to specific programs or personalized recommendations and escalate them to clinical outreach only when there’s a critical issue with their health. They can replace patient dependence on Dr. Google by serving up trusted content, and they can integrate available resources offered by the physician, the patient’s health plan and the local community. 

In short, the right digital tools can extend the impact physicians have with their patients, create efficiencies by delivering exactly the right level of support for each patient and set practices up for success in value-based care models.  

Return to the top

“A big reason for increasing burnout is that we’ve been pushing providers further from the bedside where they gain joy and fulfill their purpose, said Trina Jellison, Group Vice President for the Women and Children’s Institute at Providence. 

It’s true. Physicians go into medicine to care for patients, not for data entry into electronic health records or figuring out how to maximize profit margins. If we can lift administrative and non-clinical burdens off the shoulders of physicians and help them practice at the top of their license, we will absolutely reduce the rate of burnout. 

Are you applying these five strategies in your organization or among your provider partners? If so, what’s working for you? If not, what do you need to take positive steps forward?