WMA leader warns of global physician burnout

Doctors across the world are suffering from ‘a pandemic of physician burnout’, the new President of the World Medical Association warned today.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman, past President of the Israeli Medical Association, in his inaugural speech at the WMA’s annual General Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland said that nearly half of the world’s 10 million physicians had symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, interpersonal disengagement, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.

This pandemic was being caused, among other things, by very dynamic and changing working conditions and was a ‘blow to modern medicine’.

He added: ‘Physician burnout is a symptom of a larger problem – a healthcare system that increasingly overworks doctors and undervalues their health needs’.

Dr. Eidelman said that burnout endangered society. ‘For years the practice of medicine followed long-standing traditions. A physician possessed a unique body of knowledge to use in the care of patients. This kind of the doctor-patient interaction was paramount and served as the foundation of a personal, caring relationship. But the forces changing 21st century society and medicine are transforming this tradition’.

He said he would dedicate his year as WMA president to the issue of how medicine would look in 2030 and what role physicians would play in the future.

‘I believe that it is the time for WMA to take a sophisticated, scientific and innovative look to the future and to help both physicians and patients become prepared for the huge changes in medicine over the next decade’.

They could predict that the future world of medicine would be a world of electronic health records, robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as highly developed communication means.

‘We can predict that physicians will provide integrated care as members of multidisciplinary teams and will perform more complex tasks in an increasingly complex work environment, although the question remains: who will be the leaders of these teams?’

Dr. Eidelman said that physician burnout negatively influenced the quality of care and shortened the life-time a physician was able to practice medicine.

‘This is a great problem for society suffering from a shortage of physicians, which is common in most countries of the world. In the future of universal health coverage there is a need for a growing number of burnout-free physicians’.

The quality and safety of patient care depended on high-functioning physicians.

‘Physicians are dealing with an incredible amount of work stress as they confront growing administrative burden, rising operating costs, new technology and an increasing patient demand for frontline care’.

Dr. Eidelman concluded by saying: ‘Notwithstanding any future changes, patients and physicians will continue to exist, and we will continue to honor our social contract.

‘Every day, we are given the great privilege of being invited into our patients’ lives. We are with patients when they are born and when they die; we provide advice and comfort; we prevent illness and treat and manage disease. Our patients trust us, and we have always taken our advocacy role very seriously. It is part of the essence of our professionalism and we will keep our patients at the center of everything we do’.