6 steps to address burnout among breast radiologists: From AI to ‘judgement-free zones’

Much has been written about addressing burnout among physicians, but less so when it comes specifically to breast radiologists, experts noted Wednesday.

One recent study reported a high prevalence of on-the-job fatigue among this subspeciality, especially for those at the early stages of their careers. Reasons for this pervasiveness may include a high risk of litigation, and the heavy emotional and intellectual demands.

But there are several simple steps practices can take to begin addressing burnout among breast imaging, physicians with several New York institutions explained this week in Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology.

“Given the prevalence of burnout in radiology, including breast imaging, it is important to consider specific, tangible ways to combat this and implement meaningful change to support clinicians and staff,” Sofya Kalantarova, MD, with NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York, and colleagues wrote Sept. 23.

The authors conducted a review of the available literature on this topic to inform their study. Here are six ways in which some radiology providers have aimed to address burnout in the subspecialty. The tips are not endorsed by the study authors. In short, they are:

1) Task a coordinator or navigator with counseling patients before the procedure and delivering results afterward to help relieve the “sheer volume” of interaction placed on physicians.

2) Hire a nurse practitioner or physician assistant to perform procedures to lend radiologists more time interpreting images, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Breast Imaging.

3) Implement artificial intelligence software such as computer-aided detection to help highlight important findings.

4) Foster a supportive environment between breast radiologists and other specialties.

“A sense of camaraderie can help to reduce overall stress, promote teamwork, allow for the discussion of difficult cases, and create a judgment-free zone’ to openly discuss missed cases,” Kalantarova et al. advised.

5) Promote flexibility in physician work schedules and provide the support and resources to back it up, including home workstations.

6) Remain transparent around productivity expectations and consider adopting “academic RVUs” that account for work outside of traditional relative value units (i.e., writing research or teaching trainees).

“While both individual and organizational approaches to addressing burnout exist, it is essential for institutions to take an active role in embracing these concepts and encouraging their staff to have honest discussions about wellness, work-life balance, and burnout,” the authors concluded.

Read more of their advice in CPDR here.

Editor's note: This content has been modified at the request of the study authors to emphasize that these are previously published recommendations, gathered from a literature review, that are not endorsed by the authors.