Physician burnout and our healthcare system – it’s unacceptable

Physicians dedicate themselves to improving and even saving the lives of others.But an epidemic is threatening to extinguish the spark that drove many to pursue medicine in the first place: physician burnout.

Deemed a “public health crisis” in a recent report by Harvard University and Massachusetts medical groups, physician burnout is characterized by increased feelings of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (physicians know what depersonalization is) with decreased feelings of professional competence and accomplishment. According to the report, a 2018 Physicians Foundation Survey of America’s Physicians Practice Patterns and Perspectives found 78 percent of surveyed physicians experienced burnout to some extent. Physician burnout presents in a variety of ways on an individual level, from depression and anxiety, to substance abuse, to deteriorating physical health, and loss of personal relationships. On a more systemic level, burnout not only negatively impacts the quality of patient care but the fundamental trust in the traditional doctor-patient relationship. It also threatens to cause a serious shortage of physicians in the U.S. — up to 120,000 by the year 2030 — as many choose to stop practicing medicine due to physician burnout.

A focus on efficiency versus patient care

Today, the idea of physicians making leisurely house calls is a quaint fiction relegated to old movies and television programs. In today’s “pay for performance” healthcare environment, more than just a few minutes of face-to-face time with your care provider is becoming antiquated as well. Large hospital systems, healthcare providers, and medical conglomerates encourage physicians to see more patients in less time, cut costs, and focus on efficiency rather than care

Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Physicians today spend more time in front of computer screens filling out EHRs than in front of patients. What was once meant to improve efficiency has “effectively turned physicians into the most expensive data entry clerks on the planet.”

While physicians have always put in long hours, worked during holidays and their children’s school plays, and even returned from vacation to care for patients, spending most of their time with inefficient electronic administrative tasks is driving them to professional burnout. In a 2018 report on physician burnout from Geneia, 86 percent of physicians surveyed said “the heightened demand for data reporting to support quality metrics and the business-side of healthcare has diminished my joy in practicing medicine.”

This is a sentiment we continue to hear when speaking with physicians – many even claim to encourage inspiring? (does the writer mean aspiring here??) physicians to chose choose another field of work.

Battle of the Bean Counters

In addition to hours spent on daily EHR tasks, physicians alternately find themselves dealing with healthcare companies bent on protecting their bottom lines instead of patients’ best interests. Many struggle to obtain authorizations for medications and treatments that insurance companies refuse to pay for as “insurance companies and others have discovered the way to get doctors to order fewer tests and medications is to make it a huge hassle to get them.”

The Real Bottom Line

The burnout crisis ultimately boils down to the erosion of the physician-doctor-patient relationship, an essential element at the heart of the medical profession, and the reason behind their passion of many to pursue medicine. Our broken healthcare system puts profits over patients. Thus, this all-important relationship has devolved into a healthcare company-client dynamic focused on processes, regulations, and the bottom line — at the expense of physicians and their patients.

Without returning the focus to physician-patient engagement first and foremost and giving physicians greater autonomy over their profession, physicians will continue to experience burnout in growing numbers as they become increasingly untethered from the joy of practicing medicine.

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Larry Hightower

Founder & CEO

An acknowledged industry innovator, Larry has spent his career improving clinical and economic outcomes through disruptive medical technologies and high value healthcare services. He founded Vxtra in 2005 to address the financial inequities, opaque practices, and technological challenges associated with the health benefits large, independent medical practices offered their employees. Leveraging his experience and relationships with entrepreneurial physicians nationwide, Larry continues to spearhead the search for financial and technology-based solutions designed to improve the delivery of healthcare benefits for our clients.

William E. Pritts, II

Chief Financial Officer

A results-driven leader, Bill is responsible for the oversight of Vxtra’s financial matters, as well as developing business forecasts to meet the company’s future operational needs. In addition to senior partnership positions with Ernst & Young during his career, Bill has a demonstrated success in corporate acquisition and development for both public and venture-backed private companies. He has served as both a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Management Accountant.

Elizabeth Gordon

Vice President of Operations

With a background built on understanding physician/patient relationships, Elizabeth is responsible for managing the company’s operations team. In her role, she develops benefit plan design, funding rates, and renewal strategies. In addition she leads a team focused on delivering timely plan performance metrics and analytics. Versed in ACA and HR compliance, she is certified by the the National Association of Health Underwriters as a Self-Funding Professional.

Carmen Michea

Client Services Manager

An award-winning customer service specialist, Carmen is exceptional at developing and customizing service packages based on each client’s unique needs. In her role she assists clients with on general benefit questions, claims resolution, billing questions, and enrollment issues.

Emily Rathvon

Senior Healthcare Analyst

Emily is responsible for building and managing the distribution of our performance reports and supporting our big data analytics deliverables for our clients. Additionally, she  creates and maintains internal and external reports to assist senior management in decision-making, overseeing quality assurance, and data analytics.

Contessa Rollins

Client Services Specialist

With a background in organizational and multitask management, Contessa places a high priority on customer service and client relationships. She is focused on enrollments, billing and handling service issues for all clients.

Bret Hightower

Director of Business Development

A Vxtra team member since 2005, Bret is hands-on with optimizing partner relationships and focusing on captive membership growth. He is adept at educating clients on everything from the specific value of the self-funded captive platform and network considerations to plan design flexibility and levels of reinsurance appropriate for their profile. Past roles at Vxtra include servicing, marketing and renewing large medical practices in multiple states nationwide.

Mark Meade

Underwriting & Risk Management

A seasoned healthcare underwriter and risk manager with experience in large, self-funded health plans, Mark oversees the development of rates and projections in conjunction with Vxtra’s risk partners. With more than 30 years’ experience working with private and public sector plans, insurance carriers, and HMOs, Mark has developed financial and business models for both managed care and large provider organizations.

Dr. Robert Bulgarelli, DO, FACC

Chief Medical Officer

A Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Bulgarelli, provides clinical oversight for our operations team as well as strategic population health management counsel for our captive Members. He formerly served as National Medical Director for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, providing analytical and clinical support for population health initiatives with large, self-funded employers across the US.

He completed his Internal Medicine Residency and Cardiology Fellowship at the Lankenau Hospital, a Jefferson Health affiliate in Philadelphia. A member of the first graduate class of the Associate Fellowship in Integrative Medicine in 2002, he practiced more than 20 years with one of the largest independent cardiology groups in southeastern Pennsylvania, and he continues to serve as a hospital-based cardiologist in a Geisinger affiliated hospital in Harrisburg, PA.

Marybeth Ochoa

Account Manager

A highly-skilled account executive with extensive industry experience, Marybeth is a proactive problem solver gifted in client relations. She is exceptionally qualified in issue resolution, communication strategies, and designing deliverables for clients, brokers, and strategic vendors. Her customer-focused interpersonal and teamwork skills include analysis, reporting and relationship building.