High percentage of Sask. MDs at risk of burnout, survey says

A Saskatchewan Medical Association survey released this week suggests 62 per cent of physicians report feeling at risk for burnout — stressed to the point of exhaustion.

Government says it recognizes need for work-life balance

The Saskatchewan Government today responded to a new survey that shows a high percentage of doctors in the province feel that they are at-risk of burnout. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

A Saskatchewan Medical Association survey released this week suggests 62 per cent of doctors report feeling at risk for burnout — stressed to the point of exhaustion.

"The data that we've gathered here would seem to confirm that we have a large number of physicians who are managing, but are signalling a very high level of stress," said SMA president Dr. Intheran Pillay.

The survey found that burnout rates were higher among family physicians, specialists, doctors with less than 10 years of practice and those working outside Regina or Saskatoon.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health says much has been done over the last decade to improve the work-life balance for doctors in the province.

In a written statement, the government said that there has been an increase of nearly 650 doctors in the province — an increase of 36 per cent in the last 10 years.

Still, the province suggested that while the increase in the number of doctors has helped to relieve some of the pressures, there is more work to be done.

The SMA, meanwhile, said it is now speaking with its members to see how doctors want to move forward on the issues identified in the survey.

"There are a number of systemic issues that contribute to burnout, and we've talked a lot about how we could look at the system and look at these factors and work with our membership and work with other key stakeholders to try and improve the system so there's a bit of work-life balance for our doctors," Pillay said.

"The milieu that they work in is conducive to a happy work life as well as conducive to producing consistently good care."

Team-based approach

One idea that's supported by the majority of survey respondents is formally adopting a team-based approach to delivering health care — an approach that Pillay said is currently being done informally.

"For instance, I've been in Gravelbourg, Sask., for 24 years, and if you come to me as a patient and you require the services of, say, a counsellor or a nutritionist or a psychologist or a physiotherapist, I am your primary care provider who would co-ordinate all of those services for you," he explained.

"We provide it in an informal way, but looking at how we could provide it in a more formal way would be the way of the future."

Pillay said some of the team members may not be based in the same community as the patient, but communication technologies such as Tele-Health can help connect the patient with those health-care professionals virtually.

Formally implementing a team-based approach would require extensive consultations and planning, so the process would have to take some time, Pillay said.

"Also, we would need to make sure that we get the plan right in terms of human resources that are needed in the different parts of the province," he said.

A total of 640 physicians completed the SMA survey, which was distributed by the association across Saskatchewan between Jan. 16 and Feb. 5. The association says the response rate represents about 19 per cent of practising physicians and trainees in the province.

The survey respondents were mainly split between specialists (45 per cent), family doctors (43 per cent) and students and residents (12 per cent), the association says.