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Driving Physician Burnout: Corporate Takeover & Value-Based Care

Summary: A survey of 700 US primary care physicians found burnout much less likely in solo and physician-owned (non-corporate) practices and much more likely with ACOs and other value-based care. Lesson: current health system trends are hazardous to the health of doctors … and thus harm patient care.

Cultural and Structural Features of Zero-Burnout Primary Care Practices
Health Affairs
June 2021
By ST Edwards et al.  

From the Abstract:

Survey of 715 small-to-medium-size primary care practices in the US.

Compared with high-burnout practices, zero-burnout practices  . . . more commonly were solo [odds ratio 5.3] and clinician owned [odds ratio 2.6], and less commonly had participated in accountable care organizations [odds ratio 0.5] or other demonstration projects [odds ratio 0.6].”

(Note: Odds ratios in brackets from Exhibit 3 of the article. An odds ratio approximates relative risk, so OR=5 means 5 times more likely, and 0.5 means half as likely.)

Comment by David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler

Many studies have documented a growing epidemic of physician burnout, and its deleterious effects on physicians’ quality of life and the quality of patient care. To date most efforts to address burnout have focused on adapting physicians to make them more “resilient”, e.g. through wellness initiatives, yoga classes, or “thank you” gestures (one Boston hospital rewarded house officers for their efforts in staffing COVID-19 ICUs by handing out M&Ms – both plain and peanut – stamped with the hospital’s logo).

This survey of 715 primary care practices suggests that the health care system – not fragile doctors – is the problem.  So-called “value-based care” and the galloping corporate takeover, changes driven by market-oriented health policies and championed by policy wonks, are driving doctors to despair.  Doctors continue to bear responsibility for life and death, but have little control over the pace of their own work, or authority to address the barriers to care that they and their patients routinely encounter. 

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Introducing the McCanne Health Justice Monitor

We are excited to bring you the first HJM blog post. Please read on to learn about our mission and (we hope) support us in the fight for achieving health justice.

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inequities, inefficiencies, and fragility of U.S. health care financing. Millions lost job-based health insurance at the same time as they lost income, with people of color and those with the fewest resources hardest hit. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Americans believe that the government has a responsibility to assure health coverage for all. The time is ripe for fundamental health reform, an integral part of the progressive social agenda. 

In pursuit of this vision, we are launching the McCanne Health Justice Monitor, a continuation and expansion of Don McCanne’s Quote of the Day (QOTD). Don single-handedly produced that informative and inspiring daily health policy update for over 20 years. His more than 5000 posts tackled a broad range of health policy issues, always ending with a call to common sense: “Let’s do single payer, already!” (or words to that effect – Don never repeats). Don offered a guide to understanding myriad policy developments as a tool in the pursuit of justice, a goal that can be attained only through single payer reform. Recently, Don chose to step back from his daily labors, and offered his support for our team to build on his efforts. Our debt to Don and our vision for this new undertaking are reflected in our name.

The McCanne Health Justice Monitor will continue and expand the QOTD mission. We will retain a focus on the failings of the U.S. health system and, of course, single payer reform. We expect to increase coverage of other areas vital to a progressive agenda for health, including racism and racial inequities, climate and environmental justice, and the global health injustices affecting low- and middle-income nations. Since no individual could match Don’s efforts, we have assembled a group of health policy experts as core contributors, with each contributing several items per month. We will also feature guest contributors on a broad range of topics.

There is no time like the present to replace the unequal and unjust U.S. health care system with a simple, practical, and humane single payer system. We will endeavor to regularly bring you informed and responsible policy updates and views on how to achieve health justice.