As summer comes to an end and everyone is excited about the upcoming school year, or at least the football season, it is interesting to note what is going on in the lives of the physicians we work with every day.  This New York Times piece discusses a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine that shows up to half of the physicians in this country are experiencing signs of burnout.  This is obviously a terrible situation for healthcare in the country and with the shortage of providers this situation could become even worse.

The first point to consider is whether the messed up system is adding to the burnout or if burned out physicians are adding to the problems of the system.  It is important to note that this study was done not with physicians in training, which have clearly been shown in the past to be under significant stress, but rather with physicians in well established practices.  The physicians with the highest level of burnout were those closest to the front lines with a greater role in patient access.  The study was most interesting in that it showed that this burnout was greater than that being experienced by other workers in the country and can’t merely be blamed on the difficult financial times.  It is very interesting that physicians who feel their profession has so much meaning can be experiencing this level of burnout.

Perhaps the most important point for those in the pharmaceutical industry to recognize is the mindset of these customers that are so critical to our business.  To assume that they will add significant time to their days speaking with representatives is a little unrealistic, especially if they don’t see the value in the discussion.  It is far fetched to think these overburdened providers will take the time to wrestle with step edit issues and prior authorizations to use our drugs.  To ask them to sort through piles of co-pay cards to make sure their patients get a discount is adding one more stress to their life.  The bottom line is that when physicians are under so much pressure, it is wrong to add to this burden.  If anything, it is critical that we help make their job a little easier and more meaningful.

Let’s list a few things that could help.  First it is critical to be respectful of their time and the work they need to accomplish in their office.  If they want to see reps early in the morning or after patient hours, it is intrusive to barge in during patient time just because that is more convenient for the representative.  If they want to get information through the mail or the Internet and not be bothered by representatives, we should respect that decision.  We should do everything possible to understand the formularies the physician works with and negotiate with the plans rather than begging the provider to go against the system.  We need to recognize the work pressures facing the physician and understand all of their business issues.  Their issues should be viewed as more important than our issues.  Empathy goes a long way toward establishing trust.

There is also a huge lesson here for pharmaceutical marketers.  Burnout is a real issue and should be dealt with very seriously.  Our industry is filled with real pressures that need to be dealt with on a daily basis.  What needs to be managed are those needless pressures, that are often somewhat arbitrary, that are either self imposed or put on us by others in the organization.  Work hours need to be managed and family/social time must get its rightful balance.  Marketing careers should be viewed as long term commitments and that can’t happen if work is always similar to a dog chasing his own tail.

Stress is real and it must be controlled.  This should be a top priority of management as it is often difficult for some to do it for themselves.  All assigned work must add value.  Deadlines must be realistic. Time spent on projects should always be evaluated based on what is sacrificed.  Email and meetings need to be controlled.  The work we do, just like our physicians, is too important to be done in the fog of burnout.  Think about this as you enjoy your Labor Day weekend.  Remember that blood was shed for 8 hour days and 5 day weeks!

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