Reducing Physician Burnout and Improving Professional Achievement

A year into the pandemic, the impact on physicians varied based on specialties, personal experiences and geography. But physicians now face staffing shortages, anti-science aggression, incivility and new dimensions of moral distress. These factors have contributed to a sharp increase in the burnout rate to 63% this year, compared to previous years. Professional fulfilment, on the other hand, refers to the sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that emanates from work.

Between Dec. 9, 2021, and Jan. 24, 2022, nearly 2,500 U.S. physicians responded to a survey conducted by researchers from the AMA, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Their findings were alarming, with professional fulfilment scores dropping from 40% in 2020 to a mere 22.4% in 2021.

The study says that “At the organization level, a number of randomized and controlled trials as well as systematic reviews and meta-analyses have reported that organizational interventions both work and are critical to creating an organizational culture and practice environment that cultivates professional fulfilment”.

In light of the reported decline in professional fulfillment and increased burnout among physicians, here are six ways to make a difference and improve joy and meaning in work:

Build Resilient Health Systems

Resilient health systems support and protect the individuals within. To address the systemic drivers of physician burnout and support the full spectrum of professional fulfillment and well-being, it is important to use feedback from physicians to drive meaningful changes, have critical conversations and track progress.

Measure the State of Staff Well-being

Ochsner performs an “Organizational Biopsy™,” which includes a burnout assessment and an expanded set of questions across key domains of organizational culture, practice efficiency and individual self-care. This allows leaders to identify drivers of professional fulfillment and assess issues such as intent to reduce work hours or leave the organization at granular department and service-line levels, while also benchmarking against other health systems.

Ease In-Basket Burden to Restore Joy in Medicine

The pandemic led to a 57% increase in patient medical advice requests via inbox messages, and the increased work demands have become the new normal for physicians. This added workload has cut into physicians’ time, and each message adds an extra 2.32 minutes of EHR active-use time while also contributing to physician burnout. Some organizations have found ways to ease this in-basket burden to restore joy in medicine. For instance, Atrius Health was able to cut the inbox volume by 25% for primary care physicians who previously received about 100 messages daily.

Gain Insight into an Organization

A chief wellness officer (CWO) can help an organization systematically improve and maintain the well-being of physicians and other health professionals. However, before implementing changes, it is important for the CWO to study and understand the organization.

Improve Organizational Culture

To reduce burnout, interventions like advanced models of team-based care with in-room support can improve practice efficiency. At the same time, interventions to improve organizational culture, including connections with colleagues and improved local leadership, can improve professional fulfillment and reduce burnout.

Focus on Joy and Meaning in Medicine

Achieving joy and meaning in medicine is essential, especially in today’s context. Organizations aiming to help physicians and other health professionals attain joy and meaning in medicine need to focus on improving operational efficiency and care experience.

Reducing physician burnout remains a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians. The AMA develops resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters: patient care. “It’s critical that we address this issue now so that we can rebuild the health care workforce and maintain access to care for millions of Americans,” said Susan R. Bailey, MD, president of the AMA.

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