Physical Therapist Burnout: Causes and Prevention

Posted on January 30th, 2023.

Burnout among healthcare professionals has rocketed since the pandemic, with 45 to 71% of physical therapists, depending on areas of focus, reporting burnout. Patients, too, feel the effects of PT burnout, with 34% of physical therapists reporting their burnout negatively impacted care. Recognizing the causes and symptoms of burnout allows for changes in practice management to reduce the chances of PT burnout and its side effects of reduced patient care, loss of physical therapists within a practice, and emotional strain on workers.

What Causes PT Burnout?

Burnout in physical therapy occurs from the stress caused by a combination of long working hours, seeing a high number of patients, and tedious paperwork. Signs of burnout include feelings of less personal accomplishment, depersonalization, and emotional exhaustion. Identifying and addressing the causes of these issues can help solve the problem of how to prevent burnout in physical therapy.

Long Working Hours

A major contributor to burnout among physical therapists is the long hours required for the job. Earning pay for services to stay afloat financially requires many practices and physical therapists to take even more patients than ever before. Within some practices, physical therapists have a median of 51 patient visits each week. Accompanying this high number of patients under the practice's care is the large volume of paperwork, which further lengthens the day for therapists.

Scheduling Difficulties

Patient scheduling is already difficult. Physical therapists must find time within their busy workloads to accommodate patients while meeting the scheduling needs of their patients. With the average physical therapy practice seeing up to 200 patients weekly, scheduling errors can compound into major problems with time management. Overscheduling may also contribute to burnout for PTs who don't have support within the practice or feel a lack of autonomy.

Large volumes of work do not guarantee emotional exhaustion and burnout. If physical therapists feel they have control over their schedules, they have reduced chances of burnout. However, since many do not have autonomy in their scheduling, the chances of burnout increase. Having greater control over their workloads and schedules may prevent stress and burnout.

Cumbersome Documentation

Paperwork is another major contributor to burnout due to its contribution to off-the-clock work. A survey of physical therapist assistants found that only 35% could finish their paperwork during their paid hours. Those who could not complete the documentation during the paid time had to do it off the clock without pay. The resulting longer hours without compensation correlate to a feeling of not being rewarded for work, which can contribute to physical therapy burnout.

How To Prevent PT Burnout

So, as a practice, how do you prevent PT burnout? The answer lies in improving operations to help physical therapists feel more in control over workloads and paperwork. Assisting therapists to have more autonomy and reduce burdensome paperwork can lessen the chances of burnout. Consequently, patients receive better care, therapists avoid emotional strain, and the practice can run more smoothly.

Set Clear Boundaries

As individuals, physical therapists need to carefully think about their jobs and what they need to maintain a work-life balance. Considerations for individuals include the time required by their work and whether their paychecks meet their needs. PTs must examine their lives and emotions and work to identify early signs of burnout. Not caring as much for patients or dreading work are signs of developing burnout and indications of needing to change work and life.

Practices can also help physical therapists to identify and establish clear boundaries. Scheduling that limits patient capacity is one way to honor physical therapist boundaries. By having their boundaries respected, PTs reap a greater feeling of having more control, which may reduce their chances of burnout.

With web-based PT software, boundaries become much easier to set due to automated scheduling and improved communications with staff and patients. Internal communication within the system allows physical therapists to send messages when feeling overwhelmed, which can reduce helpless feelings over scheduling.

Practice management scheduling software also helps maintain boundaries by identifying areas where PTs excel and scheduling them in these areas. Allowing physical therapists to work where they feel useful and make the most of their strengths can enhance the rewards they receive from their work. When physical therapists feel that their time is effectively used, they may become less prone to burnout.

With web-based PT software, PTs can view schedules from anywhere, even for multiple locations making it easier to know where they need to be in advance. Additionally, the system tracks wait-listed patients and sends patients appointment reminders. Therefore, patients and PTs will both be ready for appointments.

Automate Mundane Tasks

Paperwork accumulates, especially when PTs don't have time to fill out documentation after each patient. There are ways that PTs can speed up the documentation process. Creating customized templates allows PTs to have control over determining the most important information to include in documents, which can eliminate time needlessly filling out unnecessary questions. Additionally, auto-complete features and integrating abbreviations in notes reduce the time needed to finish the paperwork.

Physical therapists should take notes during sessions to reduce time at the end of the day. With tablets or laptops connected to EMR software, PTs can access patient records, record notes, and even send compliant e-faxes to other providers on the patient's care team.

Digital documentation software keeps patient charts, insurance information, intake files, radiology and other reports, session notes, and appointments stored and organized. MWTherapy uses a web-based system for these files that maintain compliance with HIPAA and other regulations and reduces the time wasted from juggling papers or lost documents. Additionally, digital paperwork does not require time-taking filing, copying, or physical storage. Nor does the web-based system need specific computers to log in from or expensive in-house servers for data storage.

With digital documentation that includes features such as auto-complete, and the ability to quickly import notes to patient files, paperwork requires less time. The program reduces time and maintains the data needed to ensure quality patient care.

The Bottom Line: Prevent PT Burnout with MWTherapy

Physical therapy and burnout have strong ties, but dissociation, reduced patient care, and emotional exhaustion do not have to be inevitable within the physical therapy field. Physical therapists can take greater control over their schedules and automate mundane tasks with MWTherapy software that allows you to work smarter, not harder.

MWTherapy provides physical therapy practices with the tools they need to reduce the administrative tasks of running a practice, allowing physical therapists to focus more on patient care. Request a demo today to see how this tool can help improve practice operations.

Source: MW Therapy 

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