A new survey by All Points North (APN) of 1,000 healthcare workers found troubling results regarding alcohol and substance use in the healthcare setting, as well as the primary reasons for affected individuals not seeking help.
It’s no secret that the medical industry is among the most stressful career paths. There are countless factors that lead to burnout, which is one of the leading causes of employee turnover.
This is a complicated issue to address, especially with the high stakes of performing medical procedures shortly after alcohol or controlled substance use. According to some sources, medical errors can be a leading cause of death in the United States. Whether this is true or not, mistakes in the medical field can easily cause long-term disability or death.
With the pool of qualified healthcare workers shrinking in the wake of COVID-19, it’s urgent that we help existing workers. Before we can help, however, we must understand the factors at play.
The APN Survey Findings
The 2022 State of Mental Health: American Healthcare Worker Report by APN is separated into 2 sections by subtopic. The first section observes the rates of burnout and substance use, while the second discusses the stigmas surrounding mental health.
Let’s break this down even further to take a close look at each data set.
Burnout Can Lead to Substance Use in Healthcare Workers
It’s safe to say that healthcare has always been a stressful industry, but recent events have pushed workers too far. These professionals are challenged daily and regularly come face-to-face with the types of tragedies we spend our lives dreading.
It’s likely no surprise that this can weigh on healthcare workers even off the clock.
These figures show that healthcare burnout may be more severe than one would even imagine. With about half of the surveyed healthcare workers reporting that they’re at their breaking point and seeking new work, the existing healthcare staffing shortage may likely grow worse.
Almost ⅔ of healthcare workers surveyed also reported feelings of betrayal regarding the government’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. This is the first incident of the supreme court revoking a constitutional right.
Medicine can be grim, and the stress and trauma day-to-day can grow overwhelming, leading to unhealthy alcohol and substance abuse in medical workers.
Substance Use in Physicians
This APN survey found that physicians are especially susceptible to the stress and burnout of the industry.
Physicians don’t have the same freedom to change career paths as most healthcare workers. With years of intensive, specialized medical education averaging almost $195,000, there’s no option but to work in healthcare.
Without work satisfaction, it can be challenging to continue investing maximum effort every day. As days pass, the job continues to grow more physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing, leading some physicians to turn to drugs and alcohol for relief.
Patients deserve the best care possible and providing care while intoxicated is dangerous. Physicians experiencing these issues deserve quality treatment as well, but there are barriers preventing them from seeking mental health services.
Mental Health Stigma Findings
The APN survey found that 20% of physicians have checked into rehab or detox facilities in the prior 3 months. Another 14% reported hesitance to admit their struggles with drugs and/or alcohol.
According to the results, mental health stigmas and the state of the industry are the leading reasons for physicians not seeking help.
Ultimately, healthcare providers don’t have the time, opportunity, or support to feel comfortable asking for help. This allows substance use to grow severe and can lead to abuse of power.
Power Leads to Opportunity
Mental health is intrinsically linked to physical health, but it’s far more stigmatized. This report found that physicians who identified as men are more susceptible to the buildup and consequences of mental health burnout.
Fraudulently accessing and using controlled substances can carry severe penalties, as can using drugs on duty. Physicians know this, but substance dependence can lead to increasingly risky behavior.
There is nothing shameful about seeking mental health support, especially when the resulting substance use can impact others.
It’s important to support people seeking mental health services regardless of their gender identity. Casting judgment and criticism of the traits an individual is working to improve is counterproductive.
How Can We Help Physicians?
No matter the role you play in healthcare, you can help physicians and other healthcare workers stave off severe burnout. Here, we’ll provide tips to help patients, healthcare workers, and medical organization leaders help support our physicians’ mental health.
Healthcare professionals often feel underappreciated, and encounters with rude patients are another leading cause of burnout. For example, this survey by 72 Point U.S. found that 63% of responding nurses reported feelings that patients don’t view them as human.
With this in mind, patients can actually reduce physician burnout rates by practicing kindness, empathy, and appreciation. It sounds simple, but studies have shown time and time again that your words have power.
You can influence the life experience of others, so make sure it’s a positive influence.
Additionally, you should make an earnest effort to keep referral appointments. Did you know that 1/3 of patients are referred to specialists every year, but only about 35% keep their appointments?
Missed appointments cost U.S. healthcare organizations about $150 billion annually, and a single time slot costs providers an average of $200. This means that even creating a referral is risking an average of $130.
Physicians send referrals anyway because they want patients to enjoy the best health outcomes possible. They’re rooting for you to succeed, and you should offer them that same kindness.
Whether you’re in the front office fielding phone calls or in a sterile operating room, you’re on the same team. Unfortunately, the hectic nature of the healthcare setting can make it difficult to build camaraderie with colleagues.
If you don’t already, try to make a point of reaching out to your coworkers. Even saying ‘good morning’ or another simple greeting every day will help colleagues feel seen and appreciated.
While it may sound intimidating, it’s worth developing these professional relationships so you can feel more comfortable sharing your challenges with people who understand the challenges you face every day.
With open communication, it can be easier to identify widespread challenges your organization is facing and find sustainable, long-term solutions. Remember, there’s no shame in asking for support.
Healthcare Organization Leaders
We know your organization’s employees are important to you, and you’d like to ensure a healthy workspace that can reach its maximum potential. Taking care of your staff can have countless benefits that make it more than worth the investment.
Employee Retention: Your team’s roster will almost invariably change within the next few years as the healthcare worker shortage continues. If you don’t create a workplace that meets the needs of your employees, they will likely seek employment with another organization.
Patient Experience: Attitudes are contagious, and unhappy employees can quickly make for unhappy patients. Patients seeking healthcare often feel nervous already, so it’s important to put them at ease and provide a great experience.
Productivity: Your medical staff needs to be at peak performance as often as possible, but burnout can damage their work quality despite their best efforts to overcome it. Poor performance can, unfortunately, lead to medical mistakes that devastate patients and organizations alike.
Poor productivity is especially risky now, thanks to the increased risk of penalties driven by the Right of Access Initiative.
Each of these factors directly impacts your organization’s reputation, which impacts your future prospective applicant pool, potential new patients, and other revenue-driving factors.
If you lead a healthcare team, it’s your responsibility to push for wellness and provide opportunities to get help. Be sure to make avenues of support clear for your medical employees and provide adequate time to use them.
If you suspect a physician or employee is struggling with unhealthy alcohol or controlled substance use, you have an opportunity to choose how your team views the organization to which they’ve dedicated their rare skills. While turnover is an option, it does nothing to combat the root cause of substance use in the medical industry.
Avoid Burnout Leading to Substance Use
Healthcare workers can agree that tedious administrative tasks take away from face time with patients, drain energy, and build dissatisfaction. ChartRequest exists to help drive the best care possible and help medical organizations thrive.
By streamlining and automating the release of information, we can eliminate up to 2 hours per health record request. That’s 2 hours of answering phones, checking for request status, fumbling with fax machines, and more.
Removing this pain point, which challenges healthcare providers across the United States, can help your organization avoid steep turnover costs. Learn more about our partnership plans, and take the first step toward reducing your team’s administrative workload while driving revenue.