Combatting Radiologist Burnout

March 27, 2020

Resisting burning remains critical, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We now live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to separate work from home – we are always connected to our phones and have access to our emails nearly 24/7. In a recent study, nearly two-thirds of employees reported feeling burned out on the job. What’s more, that number has effects on our health care industry – the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that by 2032, we could expect a possible shortage of 46,900 to 121,900 physicians.

While that range might be startling, radiologists remain a group of healthcare professionals that are also highly susceptible to the risk of burnout. Burnout rates among radiologists range from 45 percent for actual reported cases of burnout to more than 60 percent for those unhappy or dissatisfied with work. One of the biggest factors contributing to radiologist burnout derives from the expected workload and pace of radiologists, as turnaround times for interpretation are constantly dropping. Something as simple as a small increase in imaging can increase the overall risk of burnout.

Fortunately, healthcare professionals – and in this case, radiologists – have the tools they need to help reduce their risk for burnout. Below are a few best practices to follow when combating radiologist burnout.

Take vacation time accordingly

As radiologists, we are fortunate to typically receive a significant amount of vacation time – however, many of us do not end up taking it for fear of what might happen while we’re gone. The shortage of radiologists today in practices often means that, while radiologists have available vacation time, there are significant coverage issues by sub-specialty and number of bodies that pre-empts being able to take the vacation time available.

According to a survey in 2017, the main reasons employees don’t use their vacation was out of fear, guilt and workplace pressures – thoughts like “will the employer find another radiologist?” or “will patients suffer?” are not uncommon. However, these questions often reflect the actual need to take plenty of vacation, even when you might feel working would better serve others.

Consider the use of AI and other workstation tools

We are in an age of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning – luckily, implementing these tools may improve the volume of images read, provide a level of reassurance in your interpretation and provide interpretations on routine and time-consuming normal studies.

Organizations that have implemented AI-guided systems and advanced workstation tools often see an increase in patient satisfaction and overall positive outcomes. Using additional tools that improve workflows – like collaboration portals – can go a long way in lowering your risk of burnout and help you stay organized throughout your workday.

Implement data-based feedback for growing as a practice

Your office staff supports your work, and you must support them, as well. Instead of only providing simple feedback, base all improvement feedback on cold, hard facts. Use data – such as number of readings, percentage of billing accuracies and timeliness – as key indicators of workplace performance. When an issue arises, let the data do the talking.

For practices working with other health facilities, establish approved metrics for tracking your performance and setting realistic administrative workflows in your business. Identify what is to be measured with the health system beyond turnaround time and agree on those target metrics. Setting clear expectations also reduces the risk of overload.

Thoroughly consider all options before taking the step to consolidate into a larger group.

If your practice faces the option of consolidation, be sure to not make this decision lightly. Consolidation can make many promises, but often, those promises fail to live up to the hype. The loss of autonomy, lower rates and corporate influence may actually lead to higher burnout rates and undermine efficiency. Always consider the full scope of consolidation, including your financial and personal sacrifices.

Take time for yourself to de-stress daily and weekly

Varying slightly from making a vacation a priority, it is imperative for radiologists to take personal time to unwind and de-stress after a day at the office. Everyone has their own ways of de-stressing – working out, meditating, reading a good book – but, it all depends on your personal ability to build healthy coping skills and avoid mental fatigue, a precursor to burnout. I also suggest taking at least one day each week to stay away from the health facility entirely – while this might not seem like a major challenge, everyone needs at least one day away from any work per week.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing radiologist burnout. It ultimately all comes down to how you view your level of stress and happiness at work. While not everyone experiences burnout the same way, the feeling of loss and the inability to meet your workload will take a mental and physical toll on your body. For those who are experiencing burnout or know they are on the verge of burnout, try applying the best practices listed above. If followed, it can help you enjoy work again; improve your skill; and improve overall patient outcomes.