Primary Care Physicians Are Burned Out, Though Faring Better In US Than Other Countries


By Hailey Mensik

Primary care physicians across 10 high-income countries reported increased workloads driven by high backlogs, sicker patients and increased administrative tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Commonwealth Fund report out Wednesday.

Physicians under the age of 55 were more likely to feel stress, emotional distress or burnout compared to older physicians in all countries, the report said.

Meanwhile, about half of primary care physicians over age 55 in the U.S. said they would stop seeing patients in the next three years.

Pandemic-driven burnout is now a key challenge among physicians of all ages, though older doctors will be able to exit their roles more easily than those early in their careers.

That could lead to a primary care workforce composed of younger, burned out doctors, leading to worse care outcomes, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s survey and report.

The nonprofit looked at responses from more than 9,500 primary care physicians in 10 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. collected between February and September of this year.

Physicians reporting greater stress or burnout were more likely to say the quality of care they’re able to provide is now worse than it was before the pandemic, the survey found.

The study’s authors were surprised by how responses among doctors in the U.S. compared to those in other high-income countries, they said on a Wednesday call with reporters.

Sixty-five percent of U.S. primary care physicians said their workloads have increased since the pandemic began, compared with 93% in Germany and 91% in the U.K.

“In so many instances, we find that the U.S. healthcare system is trailing behind other systems,” one of the study’s authors, Munira Gunja, said on the call.

“In this study we find that all healthcare systems really need to figure out how to prioritize the well-being of the primary care workforce,” she said.

Primary care physicians in the U.S. were also less involved in testing, vaccinations and the overall national pandemic response than in the other countries surveyed, which also could have contributed to those results, Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said.


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