Physician Burnout is happening! Let’s Turn the Heat Down.

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According to recent Glint data, which includes more than 2.9 million surveys from 700,000 employees all across the planet, from a wide array of industries, the overwhelming trend is clear — burnout IS happening!

When COVID-19 cranked up earlier this year, along with the hysteria that accompanied the pandemic, which is now followed by rioting in cities all across the country, the added stressors of everyday life have caused many to move from tired and exhausted toward full-blown burnout.

Dealing with Uncertainty

Considering the uncertainty that surrounds us, it is unlikely that our external circumstances will change for the better anytime soon.

The good news?

More of us are learning that while we cannot control the external, we can control our internal reaction to what is happening around us. Taking better care of ourselves is critical.

In the same Glint article it was noted that 10 times as many people watched mindfulness and stress management courses in LinkedIn Learning in April 2020 as compared to February 2020. A 10x increase in just two months. It seems we are learning healthy ways of dealing with uncertainty.

Seven “Test” Questions

With the added stresses of COVID-19 being pressed upon front-line healthcare workers, no doubt burnout in healthcare is on the rise. Below are some ways to combat burnout, specifically for those of us in healthcare.

Team Huddles: Are your team huddles helping or hurting your efforts to make things better for you and your team?

In the GALLUP article titled, “Beat Healthcare Burnout With Effective Team Huddles”, by Mike Ellrich and Rick Vanasse, as leaders facilitating team huddles, there are seven questions that serve as “tests” to know if your team huddles are worthwhile.

From the GALLUP article mentioned above, here are the seven questions you should ask to test whether your team huddles are effective, helping to circumvent employee and physician burnout. (1)

1. Are they efficient?
2. Do employees actively participate?
3. Are they informed?
4. Do they include visual information tracking?
5. Do they promote alignment?
6. Do they focus on today?
7. Do they escalate problem-solving?

While we’re on the subject of team huddles, I have to mention that MedicalGPS’ service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts (E4E) begins by asking the practice administrator to take inventory of their organization’s operational best practices. The number one best practice on the list? Team Huddles.

Primary Care Physicians Experience More Burnout

Back in 2017 we pointed out the unprecedented rates of Physician Burnout as a phenomenon that was plaguing the nation. Recent research by Fierce Healthcare is just one source that confirms burnout has not, and is not going away.

A recent publication by Fierce Healthcare titled, “Primary care doctors experience more burnout and anxiety than other healthcare professionals: research”, by Heather Landi, published June 2, 2020, states the following.

“Burnout is a syndrome characterized by high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment from work.”
— Debora Goldberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Goldberg led the study and serves as associate professor of health administration and policy.

“This research indicates how much burden primary care physicians are carrying through all these different transformations required by healthcare, even to just remain in business. We are seeing a significant level of stress for these physicians,” stated Victoria Grady, assistant professor at George Mason University’s School of Business as reported to Fierce Healthcare research.

9 Strategies to Prevent Physician Burnout

In a special article on Physician Well-Being, the Mayo Clinic discusses nine organizational strategies to promote physician engagement and prevent physician burnout. Below are summarized findings.

Strategy 1: Acknowledge and Assess the Problem– First, recognize physician burnout is a problem. Proactively demonstrate the organization cares about the well-being of their physicians. Provide opportunities for physicians to express their problems using formats like town halls, face-to-face meetings, and video interviews. Mayo Clinic suggests measuring physician engagement and satisfaction annually. Measuring and monitoring your physicians’ well-being is key to achieving the organizational mission.

Strategy 2: Harness the Power of Leadership- Identify physician leaders that have the ability AND willingness to listen to and develop their colleagues. The Mayo Clinic suggests physicians should in turn, evaluate their leaders.

Strategy 3: Develop and Implement Targeted Interventions- One of the top drivers of physician dissatisfaction and burnout is inefficiency. (See the reference above related to conducting effective Team Huddles – efficiency is #1).

Create a team or group of leaders focused on maximizing efficiency that are common, but are uniquely different among surgical, primary care, radiology, and pathology work units. This helps providers feel more empowered to work with leadership in order to make necessary changes and improvements.

Strategy 4: Cultivate Community at Work- Physicians have unique challenges different from any other type of profession. Peer support is critical to helping physicians navigate unique physician challenges.

Strategy 5: Use Rewards and Incentives Wisely- Some physicians are motivated by financial incentives; therefore many organizations have linked compensation to productivity, patient satisfaction, and other key performance areas. Take caution. Provider compensation models leaning hard on productivity can lead to burnout. Successful healthcare organizations deploy salaried compensation models with incentive rewards that offer more flexibility and include time for physicians to engage in other meaningful pursuits beyond work.

Strategy 6: Align Values and Strengthen Culture – For an organization to achieve its overall mission, it must:

– Be mindful of factors that influence culture.
– Consider ways to keep values of the organization fresh.
– Periodically ensure actions and values are aligned through an all-staff engagement survey.

Strategy 7: Promote Flexibility and Work-Life Integration- Encouraging work-life balance is key to preventing physician burnout. Most providers work long hours and have demanding schedules. By offering flexible work hours, providers can start early or work later and have the ability to manage and take ownership of their own schedules.

Strategy 8: Provide Resources to Promote Resilience and Self-care – Research has found that physicians who take care of their own health provide more optimal counseling and screening practices to their patients. Organizations should provide resources and tools to promote self-care such as work-life integration, fitness, sleep, diet, relationships, and hobbies.

Strategy 9: Facilitate and Fund Organizational Science- Organizations should support efforts to reduce burnout and promote physician engagement. For example, in 2007, the Mayo Clinic started a program on Physician Well-Being. The focus of this program was to develop new knowledge and evidence on how to reduce burnout and promote physician engagement.

Considering the profound effect that physician well-being has on quality of care and the patient experience, it is a key factor that should be recognized and addressed by policy makers and healthcare organizations nationwide.

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates, so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.

Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC.

(1) GALLUP: Workplace Insights, June 24, 2020, “Beat Healthcare Burnout With Effective Team Huddles”, by Mike Ellrich and Rick Vanasse.

(2) Fierce Healthcare, June 2, 2020, “Primary care doctors experience more burnout and anxiety than other healthcare professionals: research”, by Heather Landi

(3) MAYO CLINIC, “Executive Leadership and Physician Well-being: Nine Organizational Strategies to Promote Engagement and Reduce Burnout”, by Tait D. Shanafelt, MD, and John H. Noseworthy, MD, CEO

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