Technology and Burnout

By Ingrid Sparrow, PT

Owning a physical therapy clinic can be like walking on lily pads. Each day you work to maintain that delicate balance of patient and employee needs with those of the business so you do not fall into the pond. Another balance we work to maintain is our resilience and empathy while avoiding compassion fatigue and burnout.

While burnout and compassion fatigue are related, compassion fatigue is often described as the “cost of caring” for others.1 It occurs more often in inexperienced professionals who may not yet have developed the same coping mechanisms as more seasoned coworkers.2 Burnout occurs more broadly across the work setting and work experience spectrum, and is often defined as “a mixture of professional exhaustion, and disillusionment with other people, the organization, or the career, over the long term.”3 Both are characterized by fatigue, increased cynicism, and lack of enjoyment at work.

Researching the topic of technology with burnout and compassion fatigue, I was struck by a significant difference: Articles discussing how to avoid burnout in the business sector more often put responsibility on the employer to avoid or address the situation, while those discussing burnout or compassion fatigue in the health care setting emphasized the employee’s role in maintaining positive mental health. As we all know, like it or not, health care is very much a business these days, with a highly educated and skilled workforce to keep motivated and enthusiastic about work.

As an employer, what can you do? Number one is to provide the time and the tools to enable employees to do the job well and derive internal reward from patient care, which is the reason we all went into and plan to stay in physical therapy. Set and maintain high ethical standards, create a positive and transparent clinic culture, and set aside time to have fun, celebrate life events and achievements, and encourage staff to take vacations. And, oh yes, exercise. All the healthy things we encourage our patients to do.4

Can technology help? Beginning with the obvious: Yes—properly choosing and maintaining tools and technology can significantly contribute to job satisfaction. “Nothing can be more maddening than having to use a tool or equipment that is ineffective or slow to respond. Not only does the equipment’s performance reflect poorly on the employee’s production, but also the failure of management to recognize the need to upgrade can create an air of helplessness. Frustration with equipment can be one of the first symptoms of burnout, and solving this problem can alleviate work-related stressors tremendously.”5

In addition, many questionnaires and tools are available to help identify and then address signs of compassion fatigue and/or burnout. These are a few examples of technology that may function as an extension of your human resources or continuing education departments.

Here are three of the more commonly used tools:

Burnout Prevention tools
ProQuol—Based on the compassion fatigue work of Drs. Figley and Stamm, this test can be taken online.6 Based on the work of Dr. Paul Koeck and more fully described in his TED Talk.7

Burnout Self-Test. From the Britain-based career skills building company, Mind Tools.8

Take Away
The best way to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout is for each day to include meaningful work as well as some fun and reward. Returning a patient to work or sport and celebrating a coworker’s birthday are all part of this picture. And when it comes to purchasing, well-chosen and well-maintained tools and technology can decrease stress and increase time efficiency.


1. Accessed May 2017.

2. Accessed May 2017.

3. Accessed May 2017.

4. Accessed May 2017.

5. Accessed May 2017.

6. www.proQuol Accessed May 2017.

7. Accessed May 2017.

Ingrid Sparrow, PT, CMPT, is the owner of Sound Physical Therapy in Seattle, Washington. She can be reached at

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