2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Physician Burnout + Medical Intuitive Skills

Two articles appeared in medical journals and were reported on Medscape over the past few weeks, one on the scary rise of professional burnout among physicians, the other warning about their declining intuitive skills. I’m sure reading them on the same day helped me appreciate how the two are connected.

After a quick mull, I thought there might be a Health Tip in there, especially since so many of our readers are women, whose intuition comes pre-installed at conception. Others of us (male, left-brained, linear me, for example) have to hone our intuitive skills.

Physician burnout
The physician burnout survey was a bit of a shocker to those of us in the medical profession. In a questionnaire sent to more than 35,000 practicing physicians from all specialties, a full 55% acknowledged they were so thoroughly fried they’d leave medicine ASAP if they could afford to. This 55% is almost double the burnout rate of the general working population (28%) and a10% increase from the same physician survey taken in 2011.

In addition, 47% of physicians reported “emotional exhaustion” and just 41% said their schedules allowed sufficient time for personal and family life.

The best part of the Medscape article reporting on the survey are the 207 physician comments that follow. These are generally not accessible to the public unless you have a computer savvy nine-year-old around the house, though since with the internet everyone’s a physician these days you could probably register as a doctor yourself and a Medscape membership would slide through. Be aware that Medscape is free for physicians, though, and prepare yourself for plenty of Big Pharma ads.

Commenting physicians are in full agreement with the survey and generally surprised it’s “only” 55%. Based on conversations with colleagues, the commenters peg it at closer to 90%. From one physician: “The other 45% are lying.” The commenting group is also eager to report the two causes behind the burnout.

The single biggest villain is the cancer of electronic medical records (EMRs) forced upon doctors and hospitals by threats of financial penalties from the health insurance industry and government regulators (Medicare/Medicaid). This isn’t me being a Luddite. The newly elected (and youngest in history) president of the American Medical Association called EMRs, most of which use outdated software, “a point of infuriation” that decimate a doctor’s efficiency and ability to communicate. EMRs appeared well before Obamacare, but because they seemed to arrive simultaneously some blame the outgoing president for them, which is just silly.

It’s hard to convey to the general public why 85% of physicians so thoroughly loathe EMRs. However, the next time you complain that your physician doesn’t make eye contact with you any more, it’s because she’s spending much of your visit pointing and clicking, pointing and clicking, pointing and clicking. You simply can’t watch the body language of your patient when you’re working to get that tiny cursor into a tiny square so you can click “YES: I have inquired about the tobacco usage history of the patient” (this has to be answered at every office visit).

Doctors can’t communicate with each other using EMRs because there are several hundred competing EMR companies and no two systems are alike. EMRs cause most physicians to run behind schedule and on average add two hours (two hours!) of work daily, precious time not spent interacting with patients. As I write, it’s Sunday morning and when I finish this Health Tip I’ll go back and catch up on last week’s EMRs.

A second source of physician burnout is the micromanagement of doctors by regulators in positions of power. Health insurance companies tell doctors exactly what they can and cannot do. Hospital and healthcare “system” administrators, who now employ most of the physicians in the US, press doctors to work faster and generate more income.

An interesting perspective on the concept of stress describes the current situation. You’ll experience stress when you’ve relinquished being in charge of your life and you’re largely controlled by others. This is today’s situation for US physicians. Under the gun from government and insurance regulators, predatory malpractice attorneys, and patients with unrealistic expectations, their professional skills stymied by the relentless point/click/point/click, if they had enough in their IRAs more than half this country’s doctors would delightedly exit the health care stage and head for the wings of early retirement.

In case you’re curious, I myself am not in the 55%-of-doctors burnout group, though I readily acknowledge being among the 85% who loathe EMRs. I avoid burnout because we at WholeHealth Chicago remain highly independent of insurance (except for Blue Cross), government, and big medical group management. My relationship with Blue Cross is more like the one between a crotchety married couple or two porcupines attempting coitus than between a doctor and an insurance company.

So how does intuition come into play?
If you think about your own intuitive skills, you’ll appreciate they’re the result of attentive observation and a complex, but mainly subconscious, mental activity. When you know in your gut that you’ve found the right person or the perfect house, or that something is truly right or wrong, you’ve reached this point by a Google-quick scan of everything you’ve ever experienced in your life, which you retrieved from ports unknown. But the real name of the game is attentiveness. It’s for good reason that highly intuitive people are also called “sensitives.”

The title of the Medscape article, “Professional Intuition Under Assault,” is best summarized by a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

In other words, what’s responsible for burnout–EMRs and micromanagement–is causing your physician’s intuitive diagnostic skills to atrophy.

Personally, I know that when I or any of my WholeHealth Chicago colleagues are with you, the patient, we’re using all our skills, clinical and intuitive, to figure out what’s wrong. Likely you made your appointment because you yourself had an intuitive insight that something wasn’t right. You may have tried your diagnostic luck on the internet and, coming up blank, you arrived at WHC for some professional help.

I know that each of us can hone our intuitive skills and I recommend the Four Horsemen of Intuition–Carolyn Myss, Norm Shealy, MD, PhD, Christiane Northrup, MD, and Mona Lisa Schulz, MD, PhD, if you want to learn more. I cannot imagine functioning as a physician without bringing into play what I learned from them.

I’m certainly not alone in this. As physicians mature professionally, they realize medical school facts, useful as they are, take a back seat to attentive listening and observation. Doctors may not use the actual word “intuition,” but a majority of them are fully cognizant of using this skill.

I would be burned out too if I were told, “No time for that intuition nonsense. Finish your EMRs. You missed dozens of the point/clicks. And by the way, you’re not working fast enough—be a team player, see five patients an hour, and try not to fall behind. We wouldn’t want to let you go.” In fact, I’d be out the door.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment


  1. calle says:

    And the beat goes on!
    Sad!
    Where were the legions of MD’s, ND’s DC’s and DO’s when big what ever came marching in and said…”Hey folks we are going to steal your life, time, soul and ability to heal and listen and think”?
    Medicine is part Science, part Art, and a huge dose of Soul!

    We have all lost!
    Next will come the “Auto Doctor” plug your finger into a machine and the doc will hand you a Rx on the way out the door. No conversation no touch no eye contact, just a body.
    The Tech’s are the ones who really get to know the patients.

    Best Doc, keep breathing, we need your input.

    Calle

  2. Thank you, Dr. E, for a thoughtful post. If EMRs do not facilitate sharing of records among docs, I can’t quite see the point of them. Especially if there are multiple software vendors. This recordkeeping, like so many other things in modern medicine, MUST be standardized and streamlined in order to deliver the benefits they promise. Maybe patients need to demand reform. Physicians may be reluctant to do it, but they deserve our support.

  3. Kathryn Donahue says:

    Ha. And that is a sad “ha” indeed. As a recently retired critical care nurse I see in this article one could easily switch the noun “doctor” for the noun “nurse” in every sentence. The EMR bookkeeping that is required by those who have no clue as to the work medical professionals do is a dangerous burden to those professionals and their patients. It is also driving those burned out professionals out of healthcare. And the question is then asked, “why do we have such a shortage of doctors and nurses?” I say, look to extreme frustration and inability to accomplish the caring and safe practice that brought that individual into the heatth profession. Look to the profit driven corporatization of healthcare, and the unthinking and wasted energy of EMR little box checking. Thank you for a spot on commentary.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Telemedicine – Now Available at WholeHealth Chicago

In order to maintain your continuity of care, WholeHealth Chicago now offers telemedicine appointments with most of our practitioners. During a telemedicine visit, you and your healthcare provider can review medical history, discuss symptoms, arrange for prescriptions, and more. When necessary, labs and diagnostic imaging can be ordered from a facility near your home, and our Natural Apothecary can ship supplements quickly to your door.

Please contact Patient Services for details and scheduling a telemedicine appointment, or to change a regular appointment to telemedicine by calling 773-296-6700.

We’re looking forward to meeting with you in our virtual consultation room soon.

DIAGNOSE-IT-YOURSELF: COVID-19

Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.

ALLERGIES

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

COLD
• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

STREP THROAT
• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

CORONAVIRUS-COVID 19
• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

Recent Health Tips

  • Functional Medicine 101 + Introducing Dr. Parisa Samsami

    Functional Medicine (FM) is without a doubt the fastest growing medical specialty of the 21st century. Public interest and broad public acceptance of it continue to please me. Every day I hear the sentence, “I made this appointment because I wanted a functional approach.” When I ask patients how they learned about it, the answer is a variation on Dr. Google. Here at WholeHealth Chicago we’ve Read More

  • The Flu Shot: Now More Important Than Ever

    When it comes to the flu shot, I take a far more conventional approach than many WholeHealth Chicago patients expect of a doctor who considers himself alternative/integrative. It’s also worth noting that after reviewing some of the online advice warning people away from the flu shot, it’s my sense that this is frequently followed by “…and this is my product you can buy instead.” So Read More

  • Lyme Disease In Your Nervous System: Three Cases

    “Why am I limiting this to only three cases?” I wondered. Physicians who treat Lyme, like our group at WholeHealth Chicago where we see a lot of Lyme disease patients, would tell you there are so many manifestations of Lyme when it invades the nervous system that I really should list as many as possible. But to keep this Health Tip manageable, we’ll keep it Read More

Join our Discount Program

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).

MORE INFORMATION

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!