Eight Ways to Lower Practice Stress and Get Home Sooner


In article one of this three-part series, we discussed the causes, effects, and pathophysiology of physician burnout, and we learned that it affects an estimated one in three physicians at any given time. (See “Physician Burnout: Its Origin, Symptoms, and Five Main Causes,” FPM, September/October 2015.) We also learned that each of us has an “energy account,” much like a bank account, and burnout occurs when there is a negative balance over time. To avoid burnout, we have to 1) increase our energy deposits by creating balance in our lives or 2) decrease our energy withdrawals by reducing stress.

In this article, we will concentrate on the latter – methods to avoid burnout by lowering stress in your practice. (See “Series overview.”)


In this three-part article series, we will explore the following:

Improving the work life of physicians to help them avoid burnout is such an important goal that researchers are now calling it the “fourth aim” of health care, next to improving population health, enhancing the patient experience, and reducing costs.1 Clearly, it's a big deal.

First, an important distinction

I would like you to consider that burnout is not actually a problem. Let me explain.

Problems have solutions. When you apply a solution, the problem goes away. Physicians often ask me, “What is the one thing I can do to lower my stress levels and make burnout go away?” Notice how this question presumes burnout is a problem that has a solution. When they can't find that “one thing” to solve the problem, many doctors slide back into their old work habits and give up on the possibility that things could be different.

In reality, burnout is a dilemma. It does not have a solution, because it is not a problem in the first place.

Dilemmas are perpetual balancing acts that require perpetual action. You address a dilemma with an ongoing strategy, not a onetime solution. A successful strategy to lower practice stress and get home sooner will often contain three to five components.

This article offers you eight potential strategy components. Each is focused on increasing your efficiency at work. As you read on, make a note of the one that seems most useful to you. This can be the tool you implement first. You can measure your effectiveness in this effort by tracking the amount of time between your last patient

About the Author

Dr. Drummond is a family physician, CEO of TheHappyMD.com, and author of the Burnout Prevention MATRIX Report containing more than 117 ways physicians and organizations can work together to lower stress in the workplace. He was a general session speaker at the 2014 AAFP Scientific Assembly.

Author disclosure: Dr. Drummond is an author, speaker, and consultant on the subject of physician burnout. © 2015 Dike Drummond, MD.



1. Bodenheimer T, Sinsky C. From triple to quadruple aim: care of the patient requires care of the provider. Ann Fam Med. 2014;12(6):573–576.

2. Anderson RJ. Optimizing the role of nursing staff to enhance physician productivity: one physician's journey. Fam Pract Manag. 2013;20(4):18–22.

3. Stewart EE, Johnson BC. Huddles: improve office efficiency in mere minutes. Fam Pract Manag. 2007;14(6):27–29.


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