What You Need to Know About Radiologist Burnout and How to Keep It in Check

01 December 2019 - Ci Magazine
Did you know burnout affects more than 40% of radiologists, especially those in larger practices? Learn more about burnout and key prevention strategies now.

Burnout plagues the health industry, and while the topic most often referred to direct care providers, recent studies, reports Matt O’Connor of Health Imaging, reveal the problem now affects radiologists too. According to the survey, more than 50% of practice leaders describe burnout as a major problem. Unfortunately, the problem affects practices of larger sizes more than those operating with five or fewer readers. Radiology practice managers and leaders need to understand the rate of radiologist burnout, why it disproportionately affects practices, its potential impacts and a few practices for reducing it.

Diving Into the Prevalence of Burnout in Radiology.

The prevalence of radiologist burnout represents a key problem facing the industry. Within the survey, 70% of respondents cited high workplace stress as a driving force of burnout. In addition, outside influences, including personal stress and familial responsibilities, added a 36% higher risk for burnout in practice. The problem appears much more significant in high-stress, high-energy environment, such as completing a radiology residency. In fact, up to 85% of radiology residents report experiencing burnout, says Michael Walter of Radiology Business. Unfortunately, as few as 19% of practices implement mechanisms to address burnout.

While these findings paint a grim picture, the researchers note that only practice leaders, not practicing radiologists, were surveyed. As a result, actual burnout rates may be significantly higher than the study revealed. According to Medscape, the general rate of burnout among practicing radiologists sits at 45%, comparable to physician burnout. However, an additional 14% experience burnout symptoms in such severity they are considered colloquially depressed. Up to 3% meet the criteria necessary for clinical depression.

Why Larger Radiology Practices Appear to Have Higher Burnout Rates.

Little research exists to define why larger radiology practices experience a higher prevalence of burnout. Even though larger organizations possess mechanisms to handle burnout, it still occurs at a higher frequency. This may derive from a loss of autonomy within the practice, notes Medium.

For example, the need to answer inbound calls during image reading, complex, difficult-to-navigate software, endless paperwork and other tasks that take away from actual radiology skills contribute to the rate of burnout. In larger practices, radiologists often rely on extensive systems and endless chains of command in providing care. As a result, they may lose their sense of passion for radiology, increasing the rate of burnout.

Burnout causes may also arise from overlooked staff members, working too many hours, a lack of off-time, poor management, trouble preparing documents for review, insufficient communication and other issues. In the digital age, it is even easier to succumb to the effects of burnout due to the loss of patient engagement.

The Effects of Radiologist Burnout.

The effects of radiologist burnout can range from minor discrepancies in documentation to a complete failure to interpret images accurately. When a radiology provides an inaccurate report, a patient’s treatment plan may not address all needs. Furthermore, the risk of inaccurate diagnoses and even unnecessary treatment increases. Upon identification of the problem, the radiologist receives negative feedback, and depending on the laws governing medical mistakes, penalties may include fines and suspension from work.

Best Practices for Reducing Burnout in Your Practice.

Each person may use a variety of practices to address burnout. For example, Medscape explains, exercise, talking with family members and listening to music form to primary means of coping among practicing radiologists. Meanwhile, up to 23% of radiologists turn to alcohol, and an additional 2% either consume nicotine or marijuana to manage stress. While practice leaders cannot control the actions of their members outside of the workplace, they can work to address burnout by implementing these eight best practices:

  1. Prioritize health and wellness among staff. Healthy radiologists need a full night’s sleep and their health. Organizations that implement processes, such as schedule limits and workplace health initiatives, may reduce the rate of burnout.
  2. Take advantage of new technologies to reduce demand. With the rise of technology, artificial intelligence and intuitive systems can handle many needs placed on overworked radiologists. Put these systems into place, and let radiologists work on more complex needs that require human intervention.
  3. Give constructive feedback. All leaders must provide feedback, but the way such feedback is communicated will affect a person’s perception of workplace happiness. In other words, all feedback should follow a constructive pathway, providing a means of helping a person improve and avoiding a sense of being overly critical.
  4. Create an inclusive environment. Inclusive environments contribute to increased employee morale and promote a sense of community among workers.
  5. Set clear, open standards for communication. Clear, open communication policies allow for all individuals in the organization to express their concerns and have their needs met. This further eliminates uncertainty with respect to expectations and workplace performance.
  6. Build strong social relationships inside and outside of the work environment. While some may opt to keep all work acquaintances relegated to the workplace, interaction outside of the work environment may provide a protective effect against burnout. It builds rapport between staff members and encourages positive interactions.
  7. Develop burnout assessment methods. Practices must also implement procedures to determine when someone begins experiencing the signs of burnout. These procedures must prescribe the process needed to assess the severity of burnout and provide a course of corrective action, such as encouraging time off, working to identify problems and more.
  8. Increase autonomy within the practice. Increased autonomy within the practice will reduce stress, and it also encourages a return to the passion for radiology. As a result, turnover rates will decline, and patient satisfaction will increase.

Know the Threat of Radiologist Burnout and How to Keep It at Bay.

Burnout is a very real problem that continues to affect the health industry, and unaddressed burnout may lead to serious medical mistakes. Among radiologists, such mistakes may have resounding patient consequences. All radiologists, especially those operating in larger practices, need to understand their risk for burnout and follow the best practices to keep it under control.