6 Ways Health Employers Can Curb Physician Burnout - Part I
Burnout is an increasingly serious issue in the healthcare industry, with a 2015 study published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine estimating physician burnout rates at 25 to 60 percent “across all specialties,” nationwide.
In other words, more than half of America’s physician workforce may be actively struggling with issues related to overwork and exhaustion. The Intern Med study attributes this trend to “changes in the healthcare environment” created by “marked and growing external pressures.” The authors also point out that “physicians are predisposed to burnout due to internal traits such as compulsiveness, guilt, and self-denial, and a medical culture that emphasizes perfectionism, denial of personal vulnerability, and delayed gratification.”
And the effects of physician burnout extend beyond doctors. As the authors of a 2017 study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings medical journal point out, physician burnout “has been shown to influence quality of care, patient safety, physician turnover, and patient satisfaction” — all causes of concern to today’s healthcare employers.2
What can today’s physician employers do about this issue? Luckily, there’s an abundance of research that seeks to solve this ongoing issue, which we’ve sorted through to offer these 6 key methods to curb physician burnout rates.
6 Tips to Lower Physician Burnout Rates
1. Communicate: Work to Improve Physician Engagement.
The Mayo Clinic authors emphasize that physician burnout “is a system issue” and that professional satisfaction is not “solely the responsibility of the individual physician.” A solution, then, is to nurture positive physician engagement.
Of course, many organizations strive to improve engagement, but it’s not always easily accomplished. Yet the study authors point out a relatively easy first step: Opening the lines of communications between physicians and hospital leaders.
“Naming the issue and being willing to listen demonstrates that the problem is recognized at the highest level of the organization and creates the necessary trust for physicians and leaders to work in
partnership to make progress,” the authors write.
“It is important that these discussions are not rushed and are repeated more often than one initially imagines would be necessary,” the authors write. “Depending on the size of the organization, a variety of formats is typically necessary to reach the staff. At Mayo Clinic, we have incorporated town halls, radio broadcasts, letters, and video interviews along with face-to-face meetings involving clinical divisions, work units, and small groups as formats for the CEO to reach the staff.
“We have been impressed by how much our staff appreciate open and candid dialogue directly with the chief executive officer (CEO) about the challenge of being a physician in today’s world,” the authors add.
2. Empower: Let Physicians Say ‘No.’
There’s a lot of pressure on healthcare organizations to maximize productivity among physicians, but giving in to that pressure can fuel burnout. Experts advise giving respecting a physician’s decision to turn down a request that he or she feels may represent a bridge too far in terms of workload or work/life balance.
“Saying ‘no’ to requests can sometimes leave physicians feeling like they’re coming up short,” says AMN Healthcare’s Sean Ebner. “But saying ‘no’ is a strategy that can have a very profound impact for you because it frees up time in your busy schedule, allowing you to reallocate it to activities that give you greater work-life balance.”
Often, empowering physicians to say no means having the resources in place to enable them to do so. Consider reducing the pressure on physicians to accept additional work by partnering with a locum tenens staffing company that can provide quick temporary replacements in the event that a physician needs space to say “no.”
3. Track: Start Monitoring Physician Well-Being as a Key Performance Metric.
Too often, organizations fail to include physician well-being among the metrics used to measure success and adherence to goals.
“All medical organizations routinely assess patient volume, payer mix, quality/safety, patient satisfaction, and financial performance (cost, net operating income, etc.),” the Mayo Clinic authors note. “Overwhelming evidence indicates that physician well-being is equally important to the health and long-term viability of the organization, and, thus, it should be measured.”
How can this be done? Regular communications and surveys with clinical staff, as outlined in the previous step, go far toward providing insight into physician well-being. The Mayo Clinic authors also point out that “standardized instruments shown to correlate with outcomes of interest (e.g., safety, quality, productivity, and turnover)” can also be used to monitor physician well-being and engagement.
“At Mayo Clinic, we first began measuring the professional satisfaction of physicians (as well as our 60,000 other employees) in 1998, and we began systematically measuring burnout using standardized instruments in 2010,” the authors write. “We also regularly measure engagement and satisfaction with work-life integration.”
Stay tuned for part two in the series.
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