Most physicians routinely cope with high levels of stress that can lead to problems such as decreased productivity, conflicts in the workplace or at home, and feelings of irritability and anger, a report says.

Eighty-seven percent of 2,069 physicians surveyed said they feel moderately or severely stressed or burned out daily.

"These are really striking statistics," said Alan Rosenstein, MD, medical director of Minneapolis-based Physician Wellness Services, which consults health employers on wellness services. The company conducted the survey with Cejka Search, a St. Louis, Mo.-based physician, allied health and health care executive search firm.

Physicians participating in the survey had a median age of 45 and an average 13 years in practice. Respondents cited the top causes of stress as the struggling economy (51.6%), health system reform (46.4%) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policies (41.2%).

When asked about stressors in the workplace, 39.8% named paperwork and administrative demands, 33.3% cited long work hours and 26.2% cited on-call schedules and expectations.

High stress levels lead to tiredness, loss of sleep and general feelings of irritability and moodiness, according to the report. Fourteen percent of physicians said stress had caused them to leave a practice.

Physician turnover can be problematic for a medical practice, said Lori Schutte, president of Cejka Search. Patient care may be disrupted, and recruiting new physicians can be difficult and costly.

"It can cost up to $1 million to replace a physician, depending on what specialty they are in," she said.

Hospitals, health systems and other organizations that employ physicians need to be proactive by offering resources to help alleviate on-the-job stress, Dr. Rosenstein said. Physicians in the survey said they wanted better work hours, work-life balance and compensation.

"Right now we're facing a physician shortage and it's probably going to get a lot worse," Dr. Rosenstein said. "That's got to be a big red flag for organizations that are employing those physicians."

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