by Denis Knight, DO
On the final day of the recent AMA annual conference in Chicago, delegates passed a resolution supporting a new policy to improve medical student and physician access to mental health care.
Our group from the Medical Society of Sedgwick County included AMA delegate Terry Poling, MD, alternate delegates Jay Gilbaugh, MD, and Fadi Joudi, MD, President-elect Jed Delmore, MD, Donna Sweet, MD, and Executive Director Phillip Brownlee. We all understood the need for the policy, but it was still striking to hear AMA board member Omar Z. Maniya, MD, explain its impetus:
“We are concerned that many physicians and physicians-in-training are dealing with burnout, depression and even suicidal thoughts, and we find it especially concerning that physicians have a higher rate of suicide than the general population. We are committed to supporting physicians throughout their career journey to ensure they have more meaningful and rewarding professional experiences and provide the best possible care to their patients,”
The topic of burnout brought to mind an earlier heartfelt discussion among the Heart of America caucus. There, Kansas Medical Association member Richard Warner, MD, spoke about a resolution regarding electronic health records and their adverse impact on the delivery of health care and on physicians’ time interacting with patients. It was noted that electronic health records were the leading cause of dissatisfaction among physicians, which leads to burnout. The second leading cause was a loss of control of our profession within the American health care delivery system. For these reasons, many physicians who had much to contribute to society were retiring from practice rather than continue struggling with what seemed an impossible task.
During our discussions, I was surprised to learn that burnout is a relatively recent term, one first described in 1974 by a psychologist named Herbert Freunberger, He defined the phenomenon as when a person faces a long-term, unresolvable stress, and that is certainly an apt definition of what many feel has been occurring within our profession in the last decade. The changes not only with the electronic medical records and data entry but also with rising health care costs, shrinking reimbursements, high copayments and deductibles, prior authorizations and worsening financial barriers for access to care are well known and well described.
My message to our members today is that we at the MSSC recognize and understand – because we indeed experience – how you are feeling and want to help in any way we can. If this means simply talking, then please call us. If it means setting up support groups or facilitating assistance, let us know. We are facing a physician shortage in our country and we don’t need to lose any more valued members of our physician community due to burnout. Together, we can address this widespread problem, and the MSSC – your fellow physicians – can help.
Views of the AMA Meeting
“This was my first national AMA meeting. I was most impressed by the scope and breadth of concerns/ issues presented as possible resolutions to be considered for AMA endorsements. I was equally impressed with how receptive the AMA delegates were to issues raised by medical students, resident physicians and fellows in training. The Kansas delegation led by Dr. Poling is well connected and represents the physicians of Kansas well. Our elected officials in Washington would benefit from seeing how delegations from different parts of the country and from different medical specialties manage to reconcile differences and come to a mutually acceptable compromise of the issues raised.” — Dr. Jed Delmore
“Attending the AMA meeting is always a learning experience for me. Health care issues that affect our communities are discussed and debated. One relevant issue during this meeting was the emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS). These designer drugs of abuse include synthetic opioids and cannabinoids (Street names include K2 and Spice), as well as stimulants and hallucinogens. It is alarming to know that the development of these agents is outpacing the medical community’s ability to identify these substances and educate the physicians about their side effect profiles. These powerful and dangerous agents have been associated with overdoses and deaths. This calls for collaborative effort between EMS, doctors, hospitals and law enforcement officials to combat this emerging public health threat.” — Dr. Fadi Joudi