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Insight Report: Face Up to Physician Burnout

Analysis  |  By Debra Shute  
   March 02, 2017

Leaders of physician organizations are taking responsibility for relieving medical doctors of some of their pain points. Those who are succeeding understand it takes a personal touch.

"As leaders, our job is to encourage physicians to identify and articulate what they need to be happy," said Karen Weiner, MD, MMM, CPE, chief medical officer and interim CEO at Oregon Medical Group, a physician-owned multispecialty clinic in Eugene, OR, at HealthLeaders' inaugural Physician Organization Exchange.

The subject of physician burnout was a hot one—no pun intended—among the nearly two dozen invited senior executives gathered in La Jolla, CA, in December 2016. A common theme of the burnout solutions proven by these leaders, many of them physicians: Getting out of the office to engage face-to-face.

Stop Ignoring Physician Burnout

And as Weiner indicated, facilitating this in-person dialogue is leaders' responsibility.

Mingle with a Mission
Mission Health in Asheville, North Carolina, organized a leadership retreat for a dozen or so physicians as part of an effort to achieve a positive work environment by analyzing how the physicians were operating and address how they could shift from volume to value.

"It became clear to the physician leaders that there was a big culture problem," said William R. Hathaway, MD, FACC, chief medical officer and senior vice president of the system.

During the retreat, the group developed 10 guiding principles. They included putting patients first, being safety focused, and taking a team approach. "The important part was not the words that were used, but the process by which we developed these principles," Hathaway said.

"We use this to guide any challenging decisions. It's helped change our culture and direct our focus on what's important for physicians," he said.

Annual meetings represent another opportunity for physicians to connect with colleagues—and their deeper sense of purpose in their work.

Physician staffing company TeamHealth is planning a presentation that does just that at its next meeting, said Lynn Massingale, MD, FACEP, executive chairman of the Knoxville, TN-based outsourcing group.

"We're going to present a patient case in which that person will stand up and talk about how their life was saved," he said. "We'll also have the doctor who saved that person's life discuss it—to remind us of why we all do this in the first place."

Create Connections
Another often-cited solution to burnout is to relieve physicians of busywork not directly related to patient care. According to leaders at the Exchange, however, this process isn't just about delegating tasks, but also fostering relationships between physicians and support personnel.

Atrius Health in Newton, MA, established an 'IT swat team' that travels to each site and helps redesign workflows to reduce the number of clicks on the EMR/EHR, said Steven Strongwater, MD, president and CEO of the system.

"We coordinate that with retraining our MAs so they [can] clear out the inbox before the day is over," he said.

At Oregon Medical Group, Weiner took a similar approach to help unburden physicians following the rollout of ICD-10.

"We built up our coding department to take over [more coding responsibilities]," Weiner said. "As a result, our coding accuracies have gone through the roof. We've also developed relationships with the coders and physicians so they meet regularly."

More of the discussion from the Physician Organization Exchange sessions can be found in the Physician Organization Exchange Insights Report.

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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