COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Skin cancer surgeon Dr. Vinh Chung knows many people get burned out at work.
"There's roughly 2/3rd to maybe 3/4 of people in their jobs they're not engaged," he said. "Which means 2/3 to 3/4 of people just do not love what they're doing. So, this doesn't necessarily only apply to medicine."
An estimated 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs during the "Great Resignation" in 2021.
But it should concern society when medical professionals feel enough stress to walk away from their calling.
Doctors are among the most resilient professionals in the workforce. They spent years studying and training in medical schools and residency programs to learn to heal others. They're accustomed to working long hours and juggling multiple priorities at once.
Yet a study published by the American Medical Association, the Mayo Clinic, and Stanford Medicine found nearly 63 percent of American physicians reported signs of burnout last year. That same survey reported one in five doctors have considered leaving their practice in the next two years.
"Last year it was 38 percent. So, that's kind of been a call to action," said Dr. Patrick Pevoto, President of the Colorado Medical Society.
While many factors contribute to the problem, healthcare professionals believe the prior authorization requirements of private insurance plans, Medicare, and Medicaid programs are one of the biggest culprits.
"It's like all of these things, you're the middleman between all of these forces that coming out at us," Dr. Pevoto said.
He shared the example of a patient who was controlling their high blood pressure with medication. The insurance company changed which prescription it would cover, but the patient had a previous bad reaction to that specific drug.
"What ultimately happened was this person said, well I can't, I'll just wait to get the authorization the doctor is going to put through for me for what I was on before," he recalled. "In the meantime, they didn't take their medication, their high blood pressure went out of control and they had a stroke."
Doctor Chung said incidents like this inflict a "moral injury" on healthcare professionals. It can wear on the psyche of physicians to have so much red tape intervening in the doctor/patient relationship.
"The issues we deal with are life and death. It just demands so much more from us because of what's at stake," he said.
The CMS is launching a publicity campaign called "Health Can't Wait" to draw attention to the preauthorization problem.
Meanwhile, Doctor Chung said he focuses on the variables he can control in his practice like building trust with staff and creating a strong team environment.
"It cannot happen tomorrow. It cannot happen even in three or six months," Dr. Chung said. "You're talking 3 years, 6 years, that's perspective we need to have if we really want to take it seriously."
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