Healing the Healers: Legal Remedies for Physician Burnout

60 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2018 Last revised: 9 Oct 2019

See all articles by Sharona Hoffman

Sharona Hoffman

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Date Written: September 5, 2018


A career as a doctor was long considered to be among the best professional paths that one could pursue. But medicine may no longer be the sought-after career that it once was. All too often, doctors, struggling with the demands of electronic health record systems and a myriad of administrative and regulatory responsibilities, find that they fail to derive much joy from their work and become victims of burnout. Physician burnout is an acute concern in the medical community, with over half of doctors reporting that they suffer from it. Physician burnout is a public health threat. Doctors who are profoundly distressed cannot provide their patients with the highest quality of care.

Thus far, physician burnout has received little if any notice in the legal literature. This Article argues that the problem deserves and requires legal attention. First, health care regulations relating to health information technology, insurance, and many other matters are partly responsible for physician burnout and must be streamlined. As a prime example, electronic health record systems are now heavily regulated, but rather than improving the quality and usability of products, the regulations needlessly overburden clinicians. Second, the government traditionally oversees and protects the health and well-being of the American workforce. This is especially true for safety-critical jobs, such as those in the transportation industry. Likewise, physicians should be understood to be doing safety-critical work because patients put their lives in clinicians’ hands. This Article, therefore, aims to fill a void in the literature by analyzing physician burnout through a legal lens and by developing recommendations for legal interventions to address the problem.

Keywords: Physician burnout, physician wellness, electronic health record systems, health information technology, health care regulations, MACRA, Meaningful Use, EHR certification, usability testing, scribes, direct primary care, clinical autonomy

JEL Classification: K32, K23

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Sharona, Healing the Healers: Legal Remedies for Physician Burnout (September 5, 2018). 18 Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics 59 (2019), Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3244831

Sharona Hoffman (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-3860 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://sharonahoffman.com/

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