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Are we heading for an epidemic of radiologist burnout?

22 January 2024 at 10:31:40

Recent studies in both the UK and the USA have identified radiologists as highly likely to experience burnout, overwork, and emotional exhaustion. The most common reasons attributed to burnout include shortage of radiologists, competing time demands from clinical or admin work, and an increasing workload. 

The term ‘burnout’ refers to chronic work-related stress which leads to symptoms of mental and physical exhaustion and feelings of detachment, which affect an individual’s work, home and social life. The impact of burnout, overwork and fatigue not only have serious implications for personal well-being but can also affect patient outcomes and the overall effectiveness of diagnostic services.

Evidence shows that burnout, overwork, and stress lead to higher rates of medical errors and lower rates of productivity. In addition, doctors suffering from burnout are three times more likely to consider quitting their jobs and are twice as likely to have been involved in patient safety incidents. At the same time, radiologists reducing their working hours or taking extended leave to safeguard themselves against burnout can exacerbate staff shortages resulting in a cycle of increased pressure and burnout. 

With healthcare systems across the world struggling to cope with the skyrocketing demand for imaging and the shortage of radiologists, these high burnout rates are potentially taking the radiologist workforce beyond breaking point. So, what can healthcare systems do to better support their staff and prevent radiologists from leaving the workforce? 

1. Relieve the admin burden 

Radiologists are not only being asked to report on more and more scans each year, but they are also being asked to take on more and more complex admin tasks. However, radiologists’ time is precious and is best spent focusing on reporting rather than extraneous admin tasks. Removing barriers like outdated IT systems and laborious paper- or telephone-based processes can free up radiologists to focus on reporting, which is after-all why they became radiologists in the first place. 

2. Forecast demand and capacity 

It’s a fact of life that capacity and demand fluctuate in radiology departments, whether it’s down to annual leave or increases in particular types of scan. Forecasting the demand for imaging services and understanding what capacity will be at particular times allows departments to build in additional capacity using teleradiology services when needed. Simple measures like this can mean that radiologists on the ground aren’t left to pick up the slack and feel more supported and fulfilled. 

3. Find ways to value and incentivise staff 

Making radiologists feel valued and fulfilled at work can go a long way to improving their well-being and mental health. Whether its funding and support for additional training or career development programs these non-financial incentives can help radiologists feel more secure and valued in their roles.

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