Capacity to address social needs affects primary care clinician burnout
Purpose: Primary care clinicians disproportionately report symptoms of burnout, threatening workforce sustainability and quality of care. Recent surveys report that these symptoms are greater when clinicians perceive fewer clinic resources to address patients’ social needs. We undertook this study to better understand the relationship between burnout and clinic capacity to address social needs. Methods: We completed semistructured, in-person interviews and brief surveys with 29 primary care clinicians serving low-income populations. Interview and survey topics included burnout and clinic capacity to address social needs. We analyzed interviews using a modified grounded theory approach to qualitative research and used survey responses to contextualize our qualitative findings. Results: Four key themes emerged from the interview analyses: (1) burnout can affect how clinicians evaluate their clinic’s resources to address social needs, with clinicians reporting high emotional exhaustion perceiving low efficacy even in when such resources are available; (2) unmet social needs affect practice by influencing clinic flow, treatment planning, and clinician emotional wellness; (3) social services embedded in primary care clinics buffer against burnout by increasing efficiency, restoring clinicians’ medical roles, and improving morale; and (4) clinicians view clinic-level interventions to address patients’ social needs as a necessary but insufficient strategy to address burnout. Conclusion: Primary care clinicians described multiple pathways whereby increased clinic capacity to address patients’ social needs mitigates burnout symptoms. These findings may inform burnout prevention strategies that strengthen the capacity to address patients’ social needs in primary care clinical settings.
Kung A, Cheung T, Knox M, Willard-Grace R, Halpern J, Olayiwola JN, Gottlieb L. Capacity to address social needs affects primary care clinician burnout. Ann Fam Med November/December 2019. 17:487-494; doi:10.1370/afm.2470