Understanding the State of Physicians’ Wellbeing and Assessing Solutions to Address It

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The Physicians Foundation’s Part Two of Three: 2022 Survey of America’s Physicians examines the current state of physicians’ wellbeing and assesses the solutions needed to improve it.

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Part 2

Key Findings

Part Two of The Physicians Foundation’s 2022 Survey of America’s Physicians focuses on the state of physician wellbeing and the solutions needed to improve it. The survey was conducted from June 24 through July 3, 2022, and the data presented is based on 1,509 responses. Complete methodology is available on page 22 of the full report.

More than two years into pandemic, the state of physician wellbeing remains low.

  • Six in 10 physicians have felt inappropriate feelings of anger, tearfulness or anxiety.
  • One-third have felt hopeless or that they have no purpose.
  • Half report withdrawing from family/ friends/co-workers.

Their overall wellbeing has affected them and their colleagues while on the job.

  • For the second year in a row, six in 10 physicians often have feelings of burnout, compared to four in 10 before the pandemic in 2018.
  • More than one-third have checked in with a colleague who they suspected was experiencing mental health distress.

Physicians continue to face mounting challenges that exacerbate their burnout, including stigma and structural barriers.

  • Eight in 10 physicians agree that there is stigma surrounding mental health and seeking mental health care among physicians.
  • Nearly four in 10 physicians were either afraid or knew another physician fearful of seeking mental health care given questions asked in medical licensure/credentialing/insurance applications.
  • About one-third of physicians agree that their workplace culture prioritizes physician wellbeing.

These barriers and lack of support can and have led to tragic outcomes.

  • More than half of physicians know of a physician who has ever considered, attempted or died by suicide, remaining the same from 2021.
  • One-fifth know someone that has either considered, attempted or died by suicide specifically in the past 12 months.

Physicians are beginning to engage with national solutions that address stigma and systemic barriers, but there is more opportunity for physician leadership.

  • In the past two years, already nearly a quarter of physicians have become familiar with the story of Dr. Lorna Breen.**
  • Already since its passage into law in March 2022, one in 10 are aware of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act.***

Physicians feel disconnected from the resources and people they should be able to rely on.

  • More than one in three physicians disagree that suicide prevention resources for physicians exist and are easy to access.
  • Significantly fewer physicians rate their colleagues, medical practices and hospital/health system as helpful to their mental health and wellbeing than they did a year ago.
    • 62% found their colleagues to be helpful, compared to 71% in 2021.
    • 40% found their medical practice/group to be helpful, compared to 53% in 2021.
    • 22% found their hospital/health system to be helpful, compared to 35% in 2021.
  • Half of physicians or more shared that their workplace rarely or never takes action on eight of the 12 evidence-based wellbeing actions* identified to support physicians.

The steps to improve wellbeing are not a secret; physicians have identified who and what supports their mental health and wellbeing most.

  • More than eight in 10 physicians shared their family and friends as most helpful to their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Confidential therapy, counseling or support phone lines were rated as the most helpful resource/strategy among physicians who had experience with it, followed by peer-to-peer support groups.
    • 65% found confidential therapy, counseling or support phone lines to be helpful.
    • 57% found peer-to-peer support groups to be helpful.
  • Of the 12 proposed actions* to support physicians, 11 were identified as helpful by the majority of physicians, with removing low-value work as the top action.
    • 89% found removing low-value work, including reducing EHR clicks and minimizing inbox notifications, helpful.
    • 87% found giving physicians more flexibility and autonomy to adjust quality and patient experience goals helpful.
    • 85% found eliminating insurance approvals such as pre-authorization helpful.

* Full list of actions included on page 14.

** Dr. Lorna Breen was an emergency room physician who faced an extreme toll on her mental health while working in New York City during the first wave of the pandemic. Fearing that she would lose her job if she sought mental health support, and with no prior mental health issues, Lorna died by suicide on April 26, 2020.

*** The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is the first-of-its-kind legislation that aims to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals.