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How one community is preventing physician burnout

The following article appeared in Becker’s Hospital Review, August 2017. To view the publication, click here.

By now, most hospital leaders have seen the statistic.

It’s one of the most alarming trends in healthcare: 51% of physicians feel burnt out in their work.

It’s an epidemic with grim consequences. Burnt-out doctors feel disconnected from their patients. They make mistakes, and they bring malpractice risk to their facilities. Burnout also siphons doctors out of the workforce. As burnout weighs on physicians, they retire early—and they discourage their children from entering medicine.

In the March issue of Health Affairs, 11 hospital CEOs labeled physician burnout a “public health crisis.”  They call for healthcare leaders to respond vigorously, and to “embrace physician well-being as a critical factor in the long-term clinical and financial success of our organizations.”

Gidon Margolin, Vice President of Health System Strategy at NRC Health, echoes that call.

“The research shows that burnout’s not an individual physician issue,” he says. “It’s a response to systemic problems. Healthcare leaders can curtail it by giving their staff practical solutions to everyday problems, thereby creating a culture of resilience.”

But how can leaders approach this task?

“We know that there are pragmatic steps to help combat burnout,” Margolin says, “but the key is to prioritize interventions that support clinicians, without adding to their administrative burden. A top-down solution won’t always work.”

Too often, efforts to prevent burnout include long seminars or complex protocols. These pile on to a physician’s education load.  Doctors cite “too many bureaucratic tasks” and “too many hours at work” as the top two sources of burnout, which means that hefty, high-commitment interventions are worse than off-target. They can actually inflame the problem.

Recognizing this, NRC Health has partnered with Practicing Excellence to form the Clinician Experience Project—a comprehensive solution dedicated to enhancing clinician well-being and improving the patient experience.

Prevention’s the best cure

A 2015 article published in the Journal of Hospital Administration found that only a third of doctors manage to recover from burnout—and that even if they do, recovery takes five to 10 years.

“This challenging situation is why the Clinician Experience Project is focused on preventing burnout,” Margolin says. “Our partnership gives leaders and their teams a proven approach and suite of tools to align health-system priorities and proactively support clinicians in their work.”

First, our solution focuses on the skills clinicians need to thrive in today’s healthcare environment.

Stephen Beeson, MD, founder of Practicing Excellence, says “We set out to build a place where clinicians help clinicians by learning and sharing practical skills to improve care and reduce clinician frustration. That simple idea has quickly become a movement powered by more than 15,000 colleagues from healthcare systems around the country.”

The Clinician Experience Project makes spreading skills a priority. With a diverse library of 500+ video-based coaching tips, health systems, teams, and individual clinicians can swap insights and share stories, developing new ways to overcome the challenges they face.

Beeson goes on to add, “Our community is thriving, and our colleagues are reporting big improvements—not only in the patient experience, but career-changing improvements in their own experience.”

Another compelling reason to join: the Clinician Experience Project helps counteract depersonalization. The second component of the partnership centers on amplifying patients’ voice and stories in real time. NRC Health’s Real-time feedback solution is designed to reach 100% of patients within hours of their care experience. Through open-ended questions, Real-time gathers the timely, candid information that doctors are eager to see.

Dr. Beeson adds, “Harnessing real-time feedback helps clinicians connect with the patients they serve. We now see our partners using patient stories to celebrate successes and learn from setbacks. This is a major step forward on our journey to reconnecting to what matters most to clinicians and our patients.”

Empower your staff with the right tools

One word describes the most powerful defense against burnout: community.

A community of peers makes healthcare human, and makes physicians resilient. Connection and camaraderie dispel feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

To stave off burnout, leaders should commit to building a culture of support. And the Clinician Experience Project is committed to help them.