Ending Physician Burnout means Ending Redundant Medical Licensing Paperwork

Posted by: Carla A. Acosta
Monday, August 01, 2022


Upon entrance to medical school, a physician embarks on their professional journey with the full understanding that they are entering a field with high stress and immeasurable stakes with frequent life or death decision-making. Seldom are these burgeoning physicians prepared for the toils and tribulations of their journey. Compounding their stress are antiquated, fractionated and redundant government processes for maintaining and submitting professional paperwork such as medical licenses, credentials, and payer enrollments. Designed in good faith to ensure quality, but with the nasty side effect of the phenomenon called physician burnout.

So pervasive is the condition, burnout is experienced by approximately half of all practicing physicians. Symptoms mirror that of depression and include exhaustion, decreased confidence in work, decreasing fulfillment and an attitude of cynicism as noted in cross-sectional studies of the phenomenon [citation]. With such an outlook, quality of care can and oftentimes declines as a result. As one could expect, a decline of care could yield disastrous outcomes for patient safety [citation]. As is, physicians have less time to allot to their patients, because more time is now spent managing the administrative side of their profession. Piling on more factors that contribute detrimentally to patient care is something that can be addressed.

To make things worse, physicians are often very reluctant to seek mental health treatment to overcome symptoms of burnout as it could have negative reporting ramifications during their medical license renewal cycle and the stigma that is regrettably still associated with seeking mental health care. According to one study, as many as 40% of physicians indicated that they were reluctant or hesitant to seek mental health treatment[citation]. With a reluctance among physicians to seek care, burnout could be left to fester. As more factors pile on and more time elapses, the problem compounds rapidly.

Physician burnout is caused by a compounding confluence of work-related stressors on the physician. Regulatory obstacles, clerical obligations, and inefficient work processes are among the top contributors to physician burnout. The more time a physician spends doing work related activities that do not yield meaning to the physician, such as spending on average 7 hours filing one application to be licensed in an additional state, the more likely it is that that physician will experience burnout. Additionally, longer than normal work hours, heavy workloads and conflicts between career and home-life are contributing factors to burnout.

Among the most frustrating red tape roadblock every physician, especially when practicing virtual care, faces in their career is the medical licensing process. First is the initial burdensome application process; each 50 state and U.S. territory has their own process and requirements defined by their own States’ laws and regulatory framework. While some work has been done to streamline the process through the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, the costs, limitations and complexities have physicians scratching their heads trying to figure out the best pathway without setting themselves up for unnecessary and intimidating interactions with State Medical Boards. In the back of a physician’s mind is the stark reality that one negative Medical Board action in one state can potentially result in the loss of a license in another state [citation]. For example, a court recently ruled that the Iowa Board of Medicine is allowed to sanction an Iowa-licensed doctor who voluntarily surrendered his state license in Minnesota while under investigation for substandard care [citation].

Additionally, medical licensing is an ongoing process. A layperson might succumb to the assumption that it is a one and done, get your license and go situation but that is not at all the case. Licensure calls for continuing medical education throughout one’s career on top of all the other work a physician has on any given day. In fact, a physician is required may be required to do up to 50 hours of continuing medical education per renewal per state. If a physician fails to complete their CME requirements, they risk sanctions on their medical license when they apply for a license renewal.

The medical licensing process is the point in the paperwork chain that has room to minimize the factors that lead to physician burnout. With the advent of global connectivity like never before, telemedicine is an ever-growing field, enabling doctors to practice medicine wherever they please. This of course results in doctors requiring licensure in a multitude of different states because a physician must be licensed in the state the patient is being virtually seen in.

Accordingly, many physicians are turning to professional services that help to tackle administrative paperwork to mitigate burnout. Especially in cases where the physician must apply for or maintain licensure in multiple states, leaving the administrative process to a trusted regulatory licensing professional is becoming more and more popular of an option. Offloading the navigation of 50 states’ regulatory “medical licensing wilderness” to a service specialized in doing just that is an essential expense for practitioners of multistate virtual care to tackle the reality of paperwork burnout.

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