Burnout: The Struggle is Real

Burnout: The Struggle is Real

Medical coders and billers are at risk for being diagnosed with Z73.0.

Do you feel like you suffer from burnout? Medical coding professionals deal with a lot of pressure in the workplace. You must maintain a high-quality standard of work, while working quickly and keeping abreast of ever-changing rules and regulations.
Your job may place you on the front lines communicating documentation gaps with frustrated physicians; in the back office responding to customer complaints; or you may have to respond to your boss’ information requests or practice needs.
There’s a lot to handle, making it no surprise that medical coding and billing professionals can feel overwhelmed in the workplace. The struggle is real.

There’s a Code for That

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently listed burnout as an official occupational phenomenon diagnosis (not a medical condition) in the ICD-11 code set. Under ICD-11, burnout is tracked with code QD85 Burn-out.

As stated in the newest version of the ICD-11:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Symptoms are characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from a job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to a job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

Burnout is also included in ICD-10 (Z73.0 Burn-out), in the same category as ICD-11, but the ICD-11 definition is more detailed.

Are You Burned Out?

Burnout is a serious workplace issue and should be addressed. If you hear someone say they feel burned out, encourage them to seek help. If you are struggling with burnout, take the time necessary to separate yourself from your work to recharge and find work/life balance. Seek professional help if you feel hopeless or suspect you may have a mental health condition such as depression.

The most common signs of burnout include:

  • Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may emotionally distance themselves from others and lose interest in their work.
  • Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches or intestinal issues.
  • Emotional exhaustion: Burnout may cause a person to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. The individual may lack the energy to get their work done.
  • Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, but homelife may be affected as well. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.

How to Avoid Burnout

Stopping an illness from happening is always better and easier than stopping or correcting it after it has started. Here are a few ways to avoid burnout:

Self-care: The adage “You can’t pour from an empty cup” is all about taking care of yourself first. If you keep going with no break, you are going to break! If you drain yourself physically, you are more likely to become sick. When you’re sick, you become drained faster, and then you’re in a constant cycle of “emptying” too quickly. To “pour” into yourself, take several moments each day to shut out all distractions and meditate, pray, state affirmations, or practice breathing and physical exercises — whatever helps you feel better that doesn’t cause harm. Incorporate the activity into your daily regime at your own pace. Take care of yourself first, even if you have to schedule it.

Work/life balance: Creating a harmonious work/life balance is critical to improving not only your physical, emotional, and mental health, but also your career health. Take time to assess your needs. Not everyone’s work/life balance looks the same, and not everyone divides their work and personal life directly in half. A work/life balance is less about neatly dividing the hours in your day between work and personal life, and more about having the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to truly enjoy your personal life. Having this flexibility may mean that some days you have to work more so you have time later in the week to enjoy personal activities.

Find a good mentor: Look for someone who has what you want out of life (not necessarily a job) and see how they manage it. Good mentors can be your voice of reason or a sounding board. Mentors should be willing to share skills, knowledge, and expertise. If you’re looking for a coding mentor, try using AAPC’s member Mentorship Program.


Kiosha T. Forston, MASS, RHIA, CPC, CHTS-TR, is a regional coding operations manager with a healthcare services company. Forston has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare field working as an educator, medical coding specialist, fraud and abuse investigator, and compliance manager. She has also served as program director for a medical coding program and on advisory boards for coding certificate, associate and baccalaureate level programs. She serves as Region 4 – Southeast representative of the AAPC National Advisory Board, is a member of the Tallahassee, Fla., local chapter, and has served as an officer in various capacities.

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