Practice leaders agree: Burnout is bad news for radiology

Seventy-seven percent of radiology practice leaders view burnout as a “significant” or “very significant” problem, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“The purpose of this study was to investigate the prevalence and severity of radiologist burnout as perceived by practice leaders,” wrote Jay R. Parikh, MD, department of radiology at the University MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and colleagues. “This perspective inherently implies radiologist burnout has escalated enough to reach a critical level affecting the practice and being noticed by leadership, which the authors hypothesize is the case.”

Parikh et al. collected responses from 367 radiology practice group leaders to a 2018 American College of Radiology (ACR) survey. All leaders were part of the ACR’s Practice of Radiology Environment Database, and the authors calculated that the leaders collectively represented 30% of all practicing radiologists in the United States.

Overall, 55% of respondents said burnout was a “very significant problem” and another 22% said it was a “significant problem.” Seventy-one percent of respondents said that stress from the workplace “very significantly” affects the wellness of radiology employees.

Meanwhile, Parikh and colleagues noted, only 19% of practice leaders said they have a mechanism in place to assess physician burnout. And just 21% said they were “extremely” or “very” effective when it came to addressing burnout.

Practice size, the researchers found, plays a noteworthy role in burnout. While 37% of leaders from practices with up to five radiologists said burnout was a very significant problem, that number jumped to 71% when the practice included more than 50 radiologists. Also, while just 3% of practices with up to five radiologists had mechanisms in place to assess burnout, that number was 34% for practices with more than 50 radiologists.

“The higher rate of practice-level mechanisms to assess burnout in larger practices may reflect higher awareness of this issue among practice leadership; there continues to be a need for practice-level strategies to mitigate it,” the authors wrote.

The practice type also made a impact. While 84% of academic university practice leaders reported that stress from the workplace impacts employee wellness, that number was 77% for hospital practice leaders and 69% for private practice leaders. Forty-two percent of academic university practice leaders said they had a mechanism in place to assess burnout, much higher than hospital practice leaders (18%) or private practice leaders (12%).

Parikh et al. did note that their survey “may not accurately reflect the true rate of burnout” due to its focus on practice leaders. In addition, the low response rate (23%) “limits the generalizability of the results.” However, the team added, “the results likely underestimate the extent of burnout among practicing radiologists.”