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Kill Workflow Inefficiencies to Combat Clinician Burnout

By Lena J. Weiner  
   June 29, 2015

Time spent on needlessly laborious or unnecessary tasks can silently ratchet up job dissatisfaction rates among physicians and nurses.

Healthcare is an industry where seconds count, and not just in the case of saving lives.

Imagine the simple act of walking down the hall to collect a piece of paper from a printer. "It might only be an additional 30 seconds each time, but if [clinicians] visit that printer 20 times in a day, that's an extra ten minutes daily," says John Jenkins, MD, vice president and executive medical director of the primary care collaborative at Cone Health in Greensboro, NC.

That time could turn in to almost an hour after just a week, and an entire extra eight hours after as little as a month.

Physician dissatisfaction has increased in recent years, with six in ten physicians saying in a 2012 survey that they would leave the profession if given the opportunity for a career do-over.

The knee-jerk reaction to physician dissatisfaction is often to improve compensation or benefits, but Jenkins believes that the secret to burnout prevention is simpler and more cost effective than you might think.


How Hospitals Continue to Zap Waste


The key, Jenkins says, is to identify inefficiencies that clinicians encounter daily and, with their help, create a more efficient workflow that will shave time off of those tasks.

"Many physicians are experiencing a lack of doing what they feel they were trained to do," says Jenkins. "Quite a few of them feel they have become very highly paid scribes, not doctors… we've also seen more box checking and proscribed steps that physicians are required to take with every single patient than we used to."


Physician Compensation, Dissatisfaction Ratchet Up


Unsurprisingly, the lack of physician job satisfaction is not good for retention numbers. "We're seeing physicians retiring early," says Jenkins. "Physicians used to often work well in to their late sixties, but we're now seeing them seek retirement in their early sixties" Physicians who are too young to retire are considering alternate careers in greater numbers earlier generations, he says.

Those who remain in the profession may exhibit negativity, which in sufficient quantities, has the potential to cascade through an organization, and turn it into a toxic work environment.

Hidden Inefficiencies
Soon after Jenkins began his job at Cone Health, he encountered many physician complaints about the amount of time spent on tedious tasks and not enough time spent helping patients. Jenkins began looking for ways to improve efficiency and morale within the organization. He decided on Lean process improvement, which Jenkins says led to creating a dialogue with clinicians around how to improve their roles.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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