Jessica DaMassa asks me about Jonathan Bush’s exit and the future of Athenahealth, celebrity suicide and the future of mental health apps, and who Amazon/Buffet/Chase should choose to be their CEO — Matthew Holt
I have some strategies for preventing “physician burnout.” I am a little over 70 years old and am not experiencing any of the symptoms of “physician burnout.” I do not state this out of any sense of pride, but I have tried to be introspective about this so as to offer some advice as to how to avoid this problem.
My approach is fourfold. I shall begin by reviewing the definition of burnout, and, in particular, physician burnout. Much has been written about this recently, but in order to address the individual issues, it is important that we are using the same definitions. Secondly, I shall review some facts about the reality of American medicine. Third, I shall articulate a paradox between what seems to be an epidemic of physician burnout in the context of the reality of American medicine. Finally, I will offer a nine point set of suggestions, which are meant to help to avoid the symptoms and signs of this syndrome.
Job burnout is not a new idea, and it is not specific to medicine. It has been in the psychology/psychiatry literature for quite a long time. It may be defined as a feeling of emotional exhaustion characterized by cynicism, depersonalization and perceived ineffectiveness.
In recent years, many have argued that “burnout” is extremely prevalent; not only in society as a whole but in particular in medicine. It has been said that 50% of physicians have at least one of the three cardinal features: exhaustion, depersonalization and inefficacy. The problem with these kinds of data is that are no adequate controls. It is probably quite common for many people, at some point or another, to experience one or more of these cardinal features. The real question is whether this is more than in a control population and whether they are persistent, rather than transient, symptoms. That information is not available. For these reasons, it is likely that the problem of “burnout” is being exaggerated. Nonetheless the problem undoubtedly does exist in an unknown proportion of physicians.
WASHINGTON — While the news swells this week with sad and angry retrospectives on the war in Iraq, it is worth noting that the tremendous human costs of that war would have been much greater, were it not for breakthroughs in combat medicine deployed for the first time on a broad scale in Iraq.
4,486 American men and women were killed in the Iraq war. This represents approximately 14 percent of the 32,221 wounded in action — versus the 19 percent killed in Vietnam, or 27 percent killed in World War II. These statistics are cold comfort for those whose lives were derailed and families tormented in the process, and they are a clarion call to re-double all our efforts to help those who survived.
When we say our products are made “in China”, what we really should say it that they’re made in Shenzhen–a city in Guangdong Province, just north of Hong Kong. Shenzhen is one of China’s “special economic zones” (SEZs)–754 square miles of industrial space in which foreign corporations are permitted unique rules and regulations, permitting them to run high-throughput factories that currently use 3.3 million people to make products for the Western consumer market. This is where Xboxes and cell phones come from, produced by Chinese contractors like Foxconn (which makes the new iPhone). There is an unusually high rate of suicide in Shenzhen, and in Foxconn factories in particular; behind these suicides are a broader set of public health issues among electronic workers–from those who make the new gadgets, to those who dismantle them after we throw them away.