By Hamza Hasan, Practice Manager, and Scott Orwig, Senior Manager
In 2017, physician burnout made more headlines than ever. As many as 60% of physicians report being "burned out," a state that creates risks ranging from low retention to poor quality of care.
And surprisingly, highly engaged doctors—the ones who say they're most committed to their health system's success—are actually more likely to report burnout, according to Advisory Board research.
The reason? These highly committed doctors are disproportionately frustrated when they feel their time isn't contributing to your mission or to patient care. The key to decreasing burnout, then, is to find ways to help doctors use their time more productively.
Here are four ways that hospitals and health systems have improved physician productivity and reduced burnout.
1. Launch a listening campaign
According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Physicians Foundation, 21% of a physician's total work hours, or nearly 11 hours per week on average, are spent on non-clinical paperwork.
How can you allow your physicians more time to focus on clinical work? Start with a physician listening campaign. Create opportunities for physicians to report operational problems that are contributing to burnout. These conversations can help you find and address "quick-win" issues that can be easily fixed.
Not every physician will be comfortable speaking in every situation, so consider creating a variety of settings:
- Group forums where physicians can discuss issues and frustrations openly;
- One-on-one conversations between physicians and an organizational leader every quarter, especially during their first two years in the practice; and
- Executive rounding to allow leaders to monitor signs of burnout and better understand a physician's day-to-day responsibilities.
2. Make your doctors feel like human beings—not 'cogs in the machine'
Burned-out physicians tell us they don't feel valued by their organization. They feel like a cog in a machine: Their accomplishments are reduced to a set of data on a spreadsheet, the only qualitative feedback they receive is negative, and they're constantly pressed to improve their shortcomings while their strengths go unaddressed.
One solution is to take care to show positive feedback to your doctors, such as by sharing information from your patient satisfaction surveys. Physicians deserve to know how deeply their work with patients is appreciated.
Further, you can track and recognize the significant work physicians do outside of patient visits. For instance, Stanford Health Care uses a time-banking program through which doctors earn credits for doing work that would otherwise go unrewarded—such as serving on committees, mentoring, or covering shifts for their colleagues. These credits can in turn be used to pay for a wide range of time-saving services such as home-delivered gourmet meals, housekeeping services, or help writing research grants.
3. Give physicians as much autonomy as possible over their lives and schedules.
Where appropriate, give physicians a choice about how new initiatives affect their day-to-day practice and work-life balance. This can help physicians from feeling a loss of control as they help you achieve your "must-do" objectives.
For example, in an effort to extend hours and increase patient access, Aurora Medical Group required physicians to work at least eight hours per month during "family hours"—mornings, evenings, and weekends.
But even though the expanded hours were mandated system-wide, Aurora let physicians adjust their own availability based on personal preference. Instead of forcing physicians work specific hour, Aurora gave them the flexibility to pick the times that work best for their lifestyle.
4. Being a doctor is emotionally exhausting. Help physicians handle that.
Being a doctor can be is emotionally taxing—and physicians often feel as though they have nowhere to go for relief while on the clock.
To offer emotional support, consider creating opportunities for physicians to learn effective communication strategies, reflect on their natural frustrations, and share tactics for personal healing.
Stanford, for example, provides three programs to help physicians talk about burnout:
- A series of workshops where physicians learn to better express their workplace frustrations and connect with colleagues facing similar challenges;
- A program that uses literature to generate conversations about burnout;
- A program that lets physicians write about—and share—their personal stories and struggles.
Solving burnout is just the start. Here are 11 more things C-suite leaders need to know for 2018.
Burnout is just part of the equation for preparing your organization for success in the New Year. Download our executive briefing to learn 11 more insights, covering cost-cutting strategies, how to act amid the uncertainty of health care reform, and more.