Want to Fix Provider Burnout? Make Our Jobs Easier

Well, since it was published in the New York Times, it must be true. It turns out that healthcare providers are burned out.

In a big article last week, the New York Times reported dramatic increases in burnout reported among physicians and other health care providers, based on a recent article published in Mayo Clinic Procedures. As if we didn’t know.

I’m sure there are many out there who aren’t burned out, who are doing well, going about their day and doing it all with style and grace. But from almost everyone I speak to, and from what I hear from so many others locally, regionally, and nationally, the level of stress and burnout among physicians is unprecedented and likely grossly underestimated.

Any online questionnaires we receive about Wellness and Burnout that ask us to rate how satisfied we are with our job and how likely we are to quit our job and move to another facility, healthcare facility or other Changing careers seem like blunt instruments that are unlikely to get to the true source of the problem and its depth. It seems like everyone is stressed everywhere, if not to the point of almost breaking down, then maybe, just maybe, in a dangerous way in that direction. We see this manifest in so many ways – frustration boiling to the surface, outbursts of anger, withdrawal from interactions with others, seemingly lower levels of compassion and empathy. All of this has of course been compounded by the pandemic and the state of the world today, as well as the political and social environment in which we all move.

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What do we think the answers should be? How can we improve this healthcare system; How can we make it a great place for patients to get health care and for doctors, nurses and everyone else on the health care team to provide that health care?

When we hear about institutional responses, they often try to make small inroads into the things that are piling on our shoulders. Does anyone really think that a certificate is enough for a yoga class? It sounds like a good idea to remind ourselves that we should get plenty of sleep, exercise more, and build nurturing and supportive relationships with our coworkers, family, and friends. But then we return to work the next morning and are met with a deluge of inbox messages, phone calls, faxes, forms that need to be filled out, and so much more that we never trained for and shouldn’t have to deal with, and this has very little to do with actually caring for patients and providing medical care.

It is time we realized that in order to make the system one that we all enjoy working in, we need to build a system that our patients enjoy coming to and can move through seamlessly to achieve their best health.

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When our patients are frustrated, we are frustrated. If they cannot reach us by phone, we have to spend the first few minutes of our office visit apologizing and trying to restore service. If the wait time to check in at the front desk is 20 minutes for a 20 minute appointment, we’re probably not going to get off to a good start. When we tell them that because of their insurance, the waiting time to see the specialist they need is 3-6 months, we have failed them. If we can’t offer them telemedicine options based on the zip code they live in, we’ve missed priceless opportunities to help them. If no one calls them to share their test results, if patients are unclear about what to do next, if we lack the systems to communicate between providers to successfully guide patients through a health problem, we are all failing condemned .

So maybe the answer isn’t discounts on a gym membership, or a free smoothie at the hospital cafeteria, or even tickets to a Yankees game. Maybe it’s the admission that our healthcare system is broken, and if we fix it from the patient’s point of view, we can almost guarantee that it will be a better place for all of us to practice, work, and live.

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We need to claim all the resources we need to do this work in healthcare as it exists today, and then move toward a system that doesn’t require many of these extra things. Referrals, refills, and simple message responses need to be outsourced by providers. Having the right staff to manage the phones and a fully-fledged team of people to help us with day-to-day tasks can go a long way in eliminating the chaos and confusion that prevails and causes so much burnout. Maybe one day we’ll even get smart enough to do away with referrals altogether, make refills seamless, and build in patient education about all of a patient’s health conditions, so everyone gets all the information they need to take care of themselves in the best possible way.

It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be cheap, but it looks like we’re spending so much more money on a healthcare system that just doesn’t work that there has to be a better way.

I’m sure the accounting people out there will tell me that there is no business model where they can predict this to work and there is no way they can afford it. What I’m telling you is there’s no way for her tip afford it.

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