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What Happens When the Physicians Suffer from Burnout?

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

After more than a year of nonstop emergencies, another impact of the pandemic is being seen: residual trauma throughout the healthcare profession. Pandemic-related stress has hit all sectors, but no profession was harder hit than healthcare. Doctors, nurses, and all front line workers had more than a year of coping with a seemingly never-ending avalanche of critically sick and dying patients, while scrambling for personal protective gear, at the same time they were fighting to keep themselves and their families safe.

A September 2020 study from a group of American and Swedish researchers indicated a higher level than usual of burnout for healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other years. The study includes 2,707 professionals from more than 60 countries, and fond the more than half of providers from 33 countries were suffering from burnout. A report by the Society of Critical Care Medicine in the U.S. of 9,490 intensive care clinicians found that median levels of self-reported stress increased from 3 to 8 (on a scale of 1-10) as the pandemic unfolded.

While research on physician burnout is variable because of different definitions of burnout, it’s generally agreed that in most years, between 40-50% of physicians report feelings of burnout during any given year. Those suffering from burnout also tend to be physicians ages 45 -54, during their peak earnings and productivity years.

A recent article from InsuranceNewsNet.com, “The High Cost of Health Care Burnout”  includes an unsettling comment: “Many disability insurance policies are not good enough for health care professionals.” The doctor who relies on a single disability policy purchased through a medical association or one provided by the health care system to them as an employee, is taking a huge financial risk. These types of disability policies do not offer enough protection.

The physician’s high income is dependent on their ability to maintain an intense workload. Many also have high student loan debts or financial obligations from buying into a partnership or practice.

Further complicating the physician’s disability claim is the specialized nature of medicine. Ideally the physician owns a policy or policies for their specific practice area, i.e., “own occupation.” A neurosurgeon cannot pivot to practice orthopedics. In many cases we see the disability claim being paid for a certain amount of time, then the “own occupation” provision switches to “any occupation” and benefits are terminated.

Burnout falls in the category of mental/nervous conditions, sometimes referred to as Medical and Nervous and Drug and Alcohol (MNDA). Often this disability is limited to 24 months, then benefits are terminated, regardless of whether or not the claimant is able to return to the demands of their work.

The best protection for a physician’s income is to have individual disability policies that are purchased by the physician and paid for themselves. They need to be sure that their policy covers all mental, nervous, alcohol and drug disabilities. The policy should be for their “own” occupation throughout the life of the policy. There should be no limits on benefits, both in terms of time that benefits are paid and the nature of the disability.

Frankel & Newfield represents many physicians in disability claim disputes. Our practice has seen the impact that the pandemic has had on physicians and their ability to continue to work. If you are a health care professional and the insurance company has denied your claim, we invite you to call our office to find out what kind of a battle you may be facing and how we might be able to help you navigate this process. The last thing you need while enduring a mental/nervous disability is to take on a giant insurance company. That’s what we do.

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Frankel & Newfield does not currently handle any Social Security Disability Insurance claims.

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