(Last Updated: 05/15/2020)
Healthcare providers face many challenges, from cybersecurity to technology implementation, and improving the patient experience. But perhaps the most serious challenge involves hospitals’ greatest resource: their staff. Physician burnout affects about 54% of physicians according to a 2014 study – more than double the burnout rate of the general population. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the burnout problem, piling on even more stress and fear. This high rate of burnout not only puts a strain on physicians themselves, but it also causes economic stress for hospitals. In fact, this problem costs $4.6 billion every year in the U.S. alone, according to a 2019 study by the Annals of Internal Medicine. So how can physician burnout be mitigated? Let’s look at a few methods.
Start at the Source
A recent study by Northwestern Medicine and Cleveland Clinic published in the journal Academic Psychiatry on May 5 found that burnout begins in training. While a growing stereotype is that millennial physicians are more prone to burnout than older generations, the study found that medical system exposure is to blame, not generational traits. Comparing 588 millennial and Gen-X residents and fellows, researchers saw virtually no differences between the two generations in regards to decreased empathy and increased vulnerability to burnout. Rather, both generations showed signs of decreased empathy and increased depersonalization over the course of training. To combat burnout at its source, Dr. Brandon Hamm, instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and conductor of the research at Cleveland Clinic, recommends “researching interventions that not only slow this empathy decline but bolster physicians’ communities so they feel supported and less isolated.”
Focus on “Resiliency” Instead of “Burnout”
An article on AuntMinnie.com featured the advice of Dr. Cheri Canon of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Canon told AuntMinnie, “We focus on the word ‘burnout’ too much. Instead, let’s talk about developing resiliency.” According to Dr. Canon, the burden of developing resiliency shouldn’t be placed on the physician alone. Rather, hospitals should work cooperatively with their physicians to minimize the causes of burnout and promote a healthier working environment. Even things as small as taking a water break and light exercise, such as the newly popular 15-flight stair workout implemented at UAB, can boost physicians’ mood.
Dr. Canon also suggests doing the following:
- Align values – Make sure physicians’ values, department values, and system values are all in alignment with each other.
- Champion Work-Life Balance – Allow and encourage physicians to have a positive work-life balance that alleviates stress.
- Establish a Sense of Community – Ensure your physicians have a sense of community not only within their departments, but across the entire organization.
- Incentivize Wisely – Be careful when it comes to offering monetary incentives for improved productivity. This can actually increase burnout by causing high competition among your physicians.
- Invest in Resources – Commit to addressing the problem of burnout and developing resiliency. Not only will the investments pay off themselves, but you could experience the added benefit of physicians seeing you’re working to improve their work lives.
- Lead by Example – Practice these resiliency best practices yourself. If your physicians see you over-working, they may feel the pressure to as well, so it’s important to set a good example.
Ultimately, Dr. Canon says, “To combat burnout, we need to redesign the system of work in which the radiologists particpate, rather than the radiologist.”
Ensure Technology Creates Less Work, Not More
Surprisingly, one of the biggest contributors to burnout is technology. While health systems should constantly strive to innovate their practices with the newest technologies, it’s important that that technology creates less work, and less burden, for physicians. One of the biggest pain points for physicians is the added work that comes with new technology. A lot of that work can be automated, says Dr. Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health IT, in this article on healthcareitnews.com.
In addition to automating where it makes sense, Dr. Charles Alessi, HIMSS Chief Clinical Officer, says we need technology that promotes precision health. “That means creating a situation where we’re managing wellness as well as we’re managing illness,” says Alessi. According to Alessi, once this is achieved, clinical decision support systems can be implemented “right inside the EHRs, and right inside the clinical workflow.” Clinical Decision Support Mechanisms (qCDSMs), such as iOrder, help physicians order the correct procedures for each patient. This helps minimize errors and readmissions, which can help decrease stress and burnout.
While physician burnout is a growing problem that has serious consequences for patients, physicians, and providers, there are ways to curb it. There’s no quick and easy solution for fighting burnout, but it’s well worth the time and resources spent. Some of the best ways to curb physician burnout are addressing burnout at its source during physician training, developing resiliency, automating processes and procedures where it makes sense, and implementing a qCDSM that is interoperable with your EHR. If you’d like to learn more about how a qCDSM can help your organization, request an iOrder demo today.