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Time: The key to preventing physician burnout

August 23, 2017

    Earlier this year, 11 leading health system CEOs labeled physician burnout a public health crisis. They noted the "consequences of physician burnout are significant, and threaten our U.S. health care system, including patient safety, quality of care, and health care costs."

    Provider burnout is not just a serious business issue, but also a deeply personal one—which affects how organizations need to address it. Frequent job turnover, early retirement, and quitting the profession altogether are only manifestations of the feelings burned out physicians (and their families) experience. 

    Reduction is not enough

    Many organizations have responded to burnout by prioritizing provider wellness and resiliency. Member medical groups have developed several strategies—mental health support, peer forums, retreats, even sabbaticals—to promote provider wellness. These programs can be remarkably effective and help providers rediscover the joy of medicine.

    But many leaders told us that these wellness initiatives can be just a drop in the bucket. Reducing burnout through emotional support is an effective start, but reduction isn't a standalone strategy.

    Time is the key to prevention

    Beating the burnout epidemic requires going further: It necessitates both reducing and preventing the condition. To do this, health care organizations must bifurcate their approach. They must:

    • Target those physicians already burned out or close to it with reduction-focused wellness programs; and
    • Implement tactics to prevent burnout for the rest of the provider enterprise.

    To do this, leaders must understand burnout's causes. The 2017 Medscape Lifestyle Report surveyed more than 14,000 physicians about the drivers of physician burnout. 

    Three of the top five contributors to burnout involve how physicians spend their time, with "Too many bureaucratic tasks" the runaway top response.

    This is why progressive medical groups are focusing on ways to give providers time back in their day and to reduce how often they work below their license. Two areas prime for redesign are the EHR and care team.

    Around the country, leaders are looking to optimize the provider-EHR relationship and reduce time spent documenting with greater EHR training and customization, voice recognition software, and scribes. Medical group executives are also reevaluating their care team design as they build structures for better delegating physician administrative tasks to care team members. These time-based strategies are a win-win, as the data suggests these organizational interventions are doubly effective—improving both burnout prevention and reduction.


    Monday, August 28: Learn how to reduce stress and burnout


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