Working Remotely Lowers Radiologist Burnout
A study just published in Clinical Radiology studied radiologists at Penn State Hershey Medical Center who took part in a flexible schedule that allowed participants to work from home for part of each week. The study was conducted from soon after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic through March 2021 — as radiology practices shifted to increased use of teleradiology to help safeguard and protect their radiologists by minimizing exposure to COVID-19 to help ensure ongoing radiology services.
Throughout the pandemic, the Penn State radiologists have continued their hybrid schedules — procedural/educational attendings rotating with hospital duty and remote working.
The 2021 study utilized a questionnaire based on the Maslach Burnout Inventory for Human Services Workers that was used in 2017 to assess radiology faculty burnout and wellness. The first 15 questions were identical to the 2017 questionnaire; a sixteenth question included in both surveys related to the participants’ rank (Assistant or Associate Professor, Professor, Ph.D. or other). Two questions were added — addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their workplace environment.
- Not only did faulty wellness scores improve — 74% cited the flexibility and autonomy that the hybrid schedule offered, and 51% felt that the hybrid schedule positively influenced remaining at the institution.
- Turnaround times improved significantly — for CT and MRI exams, regardless of setting (ED or inpatient), and for inpatient ultrasounds and radiographs.
- Remote shifts increased productivity.
The study’s authors also observed financial and environmental advantages gained through hybrid work schedules.
Individual responses were impactful and significant for the implementation of permanently adopting hybrid schedules. Radiologists’ comments included:
- It has increased productivity, satisfaction, and ability to teach without interruptions within the reading room.
- 100%, I am more focused and productive at home. There are few distractions, and I can focus on tasks uninterrupted.
- I have an extra 90 minutes of productive time/day between 6 am and 6 pm because I have no commute.
Contrary to the fears of possible distractions from children at home or the lack of peer monitoring, neither of these concerns materialized.
Radiologist burnout has become a significant “potentially crippling” factor throughout the United States, and increasing workloads are foreseen as the U.S. population continues to age. Thus, more flexible work schedules appear to offer the potential to reduce burnout while increasing productivity.