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Physician burnout rates lower for small, independent practices

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Physicians who are overwhelmed with their workload and who do not enjoy a healthy work/life balance may soon burn out from the stress involved in practicing medicine. However, most independent physicians who have control over their workload, who take advantage of electronic health records (EHRs) for their independent primary care practice, and who run their own practices autonomously appear to have much lower burnout rates than those physicians who work as an employee for a larger organization.

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (JABFM), funded through the Agency for Health Care and Quality’s EvidenceNOW initiative, and approved by the New York University School of Medicine Institutional Review Board, found a “remarkably low burnout rate (13.5%) among providers practicing in SIPs (small independent primary care practices) in NYC compared with the burnout rate among physicians in previous studies.”

The study involved 235 providers practicing in 174 small independent primary care practices in New York City. Most (66.9%) SIPs were solo provider practices and 46.5% were recognized as Primary Care Medical Homes (PCMHs).

Authors of the study speculated that small independent primary care practices “may have deeper relationships with their patients, which may lead to greater job satisfaction and less burnout among providers.” Other studies have shown physician burnout to be a major problem for larger organizations such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In fact, an NEJM Catalyst survey recently found that “83% of respondents — who are clinicians, clinical leaders, and health care executives — call physician burnout a ‘serious’ or ‘moderate’ problem in their organizations.”

Lower physician burnout in small, independent practices is most likely attributed to the autonomy those physicians enjoy in regard to their workload and work hours. The JABFM research study authors indicated that one explanation for their finding of the low burnout rate “could be the autonomy (ie, control of work environment) associated with owning one’s own practice as opposed to working in an integrated health system or Federally Qualified Health Center where providers are subject to greater administrative regulations.”