Practice Notes

Can a time bank beat physician burnout? Stanford thinks so.


Whether it’s in the context of academic medicine or community medical practice, physicians work a lot. You might wonder then if there’s a way to bank and redistribute some of that time to stave off physician burnout.

Stanford thought the same thing, and here’s what their time bank looks like: doctors earn credits for doing the type of work that would typically go unrewarded—things like serving on committees or mentoring or covering shifts for their colleagues. These credits can in turn be used to pay for a wide range of time-saving services like home-delivered gourmet meals, housekeeping services, or help writing research grants.

Time is money. But sometimes it’s also just time.

At the Medical Group Strategy Council, we’ve talked a lot about tackling physician frustration and boosting physician engagement. But physician burnout is a related, equally as pressing challenge, especially when you consider that physicians are constantly asked to do more and make big changes to their daily workflow as the health system strives to execute against its broader strategic goals.

When it comes to ways to save time and beat burnout, sure, physicians could afford to pay for meal delivery and housekeeping help themselves. Stanford’s highly effective time-banking program works, however, because with so much on their plates already, the program gives busy doctors back the thing of which they have precious little: time.

This approach to beating burnout is noteworthy in two ways:

  • The program offers services directly, not extra compensation. Stanford’s time bank means physicians don’t have to spend what free time they have searching for—and coordinating—the services that can help make their lives easier.

  • This is not a handout. While the culture of medicine can sometimes breed the unrelenting pressure to work more, Stanford’s physicians are actually earning this time as a reward for the work they do that’s above and beyond.

Stanford reports that through the time bank program, they have seen increases in job satisfaction and work-life balance, more collegiality between physicians, and an uptick in research grants at the institution—both the number applied for and a higher approval rate.

In the story reported by The Washington Post on Stanford’s time-banking program, leading burnout expert Dr. Mark Linzer underscores that combating physician burnout doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. He says instead, "it just means pay attention to what people are saying. Listen. Do something special. Then measure how you did."

What are your physicians saying?

As we dive into the 2016 research cycle, physician burnout is a top-of-mind issue for us. Are you wrestling with physician burnout? Have you taken any steps to help beat it? If your physicians are experiencing burnout, please reach out to us at mgsc@advisory.com to share your story. We would love to learn from you!

 

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