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Stanford's 3-Pronged Strategy to Curb Burnout and Boost Wellness

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   August 02, 2018

The premier university and its health system have adopted an approach to wellness that focuses on promoting efficiency, supporting resilience, and creating a culture of wellness.

Personal resilience is only part of Stanford University's burnout strategy for physicians and other employees.

"Wellness is much more than that. It's about the culture. It's about giving people the tools they need to succeed. It's also about getting in the flow and being engaged in our work," Patricia Purpur de Vries, director of the Stanford Health Promotion Network, said this week at the Virtual Health Care Summit in Boston.

Stanford has been focusing intently on physician burnout since 2013. Internal survey data from 2013 to 2016 showed burnout was a potentially devastating financial liability.

For every physician Stanford loses, the replacement cost ranges from $250,000 to $1 million. Burnout-related physician departures can hit the health system's bottom line hard, de Vries said.

"From 2013 to 2016 our burnout rates went up and our professional satisfaction rates went down. We estimated from the number of physicians who left from 2013 to 2016 that we would lose 88 physicians over the next year, which could amount from anywhere between $11 million and $88 million."

Stanford has adopted a three-part strategy to address burnout among its 32,000 employees: creating a culture of wellness, establishing efficiency of practice in the workplace, and promoting personal resilience.

1. Culture of Wellness

Leadership is an essential ingredient to create a culture of wellness, de Vries said. "Under a culture of wellness, we have found out that leader support of employees is absolutely key."

Supervisors and workers are encouraged to develop positive relationships that foster meaningful conversations, she says.

"There are a lot of simple ways we can talk through things and help our leaders see the value of getting the best out of employees. We get the best out of people when they feel motivated and cared for."

2. Efficiency of Practice

There are several components to efficiency of practice, de Vries said. "These are workplace processes and practices that promote safety, quality, effectiveness, and positive patient and collegiate interactions."

At Stanford, employee engagement is a crucial factor in achieving efficiency, she said. "Inefficiency is an enormous problem for us. The inefficiencies in our entire workforce are difficult to address. It stems from people not being engaged in their work."

Employee engagement has become a top priority at the university and its health system, de Vries said.

"If we can tie every employee's worth, value, and mission back to the organization, we are all more likely to be happy in the job we were hired for and hopefully do our jobs with more enthusiasm."

Electronic medical record optimization has also been a priority, she said. "We found the EMR was a huge problem at the hospitals. It was so big, nobody was talking about anything else."

3. Personal resilience

Stanford views personal resilience programs as an old-school but crucial element of combatting burnout and nurturing wellness, de Vries said.

"For personal resilience, we feel that it is our traditional wellness program—how we eat, move, and think. It's important to us. At Stanford, we have amazing fitness facilities, two enormous pools, and tracks. We have world-class facilities that our employees can use for no charge."

Stanford has built up its personal resilience infrastructure beyond fitness facilities, with 1,000 fitness classes and healthy living programs offered annually.

The university also provides wellness incentives, she said. "We have biometric screenings that we offer and 57% of our employees have completed their biometric screenings."

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.

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