Work-Life Balance: Will Physicians Ever Find It?


 
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By Liz Meszaros

Finding a good work-life balance is not easy in this day and age, when more and more people—particularly physicians—are working overtime.

Consider that the average workday for people is not productive, according to a 2019 survey conducted by RescueTime, makers of a time-optimization program. In their survey of 800 participants, they found that the average worker spends only 2.8 hours per day on productive tasks. The rest of the workday is spent doing neutral activities (1 hour and 6 minutes) or distracting activities (1 hour and 12 minutes).

Unfortunately, very few physicians have a 40-hour workweek. In fact, not only do doctors work an average of 10 hours more per week compared with the average population, they also experience significantly more emotional exhaustion (43% vs 24%, respectively) and burnout (49% vs 28%), according to a study from the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic.

Among the many responsibilities physicians have are the expectation that they will successfully run a practice or diligently complete daily rounds or clinic hours, be on-call regularly, see patients, deal with EHR documentation, and complete at least 50 hours or more of CME each year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s preventing doctors from getting work done?

For physicians, many factors can detract from optimal work and focus, including workplace distractions, checking communications, the inefficient use of time, and even multitasking. Because it’s replete with distractions, an unproductive workday means that unfinished work will require more time spent in the office or at home, getting it done. This sets the stage for a vicious cycle that may ultimately tilt work-life balance off-kilter.

Some of the biggest time-wasters physician regularly face during their workday include the following:

-Not finding necessary supplies

-Leaving the room to get lab or x-ray results

-Searching for the right support staff

-Equipment that doesn’t work

-Not enough exam rooms

-Patients who are not set up and ready to go when they enter the room

-Office bottlenecks

-Poorly organized charts

-Poorly run staff meetings

-Staff conflicts

-Late patients

-Unproductive patient appointments

With all of these distractions and potential for wasting time, it’s easy to see why physicians put in more work hours than most. That’s why it’s even more important for them to focus on achieving good work-life balance.

Here are a few tips to remember when you are trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance:

1. Limit activities (and people) that are time-wasters. For doctors in a practice, the three biggest time-waters include documentation, billing issues, and staff management. Relieve yourself of your documentation burdens by hiring a medical scribe, using digital transcription devices, or investing in a virtual scribe service that can do all documentation and EHR charting for you. Billing can be outsourced, so you won’t have to get involved with front-office billing issues. Finally, hire an office manager to deal with any and all staff conflicts in your practice.

2. Schedule regular self-care time. Exercising and meditating are great ways to relieve stress and take care of both your physical and mental states. These activities are also considered self-care, which are important for everyone. For better work-life balance, set aside regular and adequate chunks of time each week (and optimally, each day) for self-care. Exercise, do yoga, or meditate. Find what works for you, and stick with it.

3. Focus on activities and people you value the most. Do you try to do it all, both at work and at home? Because doing it all can lead to frustration, stress, and failure, as well as a lack of balance. Try to decide which activities and people are priorities, and delegate or outsource whatever isn’t. That could include asking your spouse to take the kids to soccer practice on Saturdays. Or, asking your another physician to switch up your on-call weekends. Or getting a landscaping service to do the yard, or a cleaning service to keep the house clean.

And remember that work-life balance does not mean that you spend equal time at work and off work. It means finding what works best for you, your health, and your peace of mind, and deters burnout.

Achieving work-life balance can be challenging. But it’s essential for both your well-being as well as your ability to successfully practice medicine. Take time to balance yourself. You, your staff, your patients, and your family and friends will all reap the rewards.

 
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