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Best Practices for Combatting Physician Burnout

We recently spoke to Dike Drummond MD, Physician Coach, Healthcare Speaker, and CEO,, about physician burnout and what organizations can do about it.

Dr. Drummond tells us, “If your organization were able to lower physician burnout rates, you could reasonably expect to see improvements in patient satisfaction, quality, safety, morale, and decreases in errors, malpractice cases, and turnover.”

Here is a four part program he has established in several client organizations with promising results. When fully implemented, he shares, “These four steps will prevent burnout, normalize the discussion around stress and burnout, and build a culture of engagement and support across the physicians and staff.”

Step One: Comprehensive Burnout Education

All physicians, Advanced Practice Providers, and staff in your organization graduate having learned nothing about stress management or burnout prevention. Because there is no room in the curriculum, the resulting vacuum allows doctors to develop the negative habits that increase burnout risk.

It is up to the employer to fill this educational hole and to teach burnout’s symptoms, pathophysiology, effects, prevalence, and the four causes. Make sure your people understand their programming and when their actions are being driven by unhealthy habits. We must teach burnout prevention tools such as:

  • Practice efficiency techniques – BID Huddle, Batch Processing, and EMR Power User Strategies
  • Life Balance techniques – Weekly Schedule HACK, Boundary Ritual, and Bucket List management tools

Use live trainings, written resources, and mini-burnout prevention lessons in your corporate intranet training site to equip everyone with tools to take better care of themselves and each other. Incorporate burnout education into your onboarding process going forward so that understanding and preventing burnout and supporting each other’s health and well-being becomes part of “the way we do things around here.”

Cultural Message:

Focus on communicating that “this work is hard. All of us struggle at times. We are all in this together. Here are some tools that can help. It is OK to ask for help, and ask a colleague how they are doing, around here.”

Step Two: Stress Directed, Physician-led(Continuous Quality Initiative (CQI)

Establish a Burnout Prevention Working Group (BPWG) led by physicians. Give this body full administrative support and a budget. Survey your providers with short (7 questions), focused questionnaires that produce actionable data. The most useful three questions are, “What are the #1, #2 and #3 biggest stressors in your day?”

The answers to these questions become the project list for your BPWG. Select one and take highly visible action to address it. Disseminate your project innovations to the rest of the group as quickly as possible. Repeat the surveys and improvement cycle at least as often as annually. The BPWG is the ideal place for physicians in any internal Leadership Development Academy to practice their meeting facilitation and project management skills. All project success will translate into immediate lowering of physician stress levels.

Cultural Message:

Be direct, stating “Tell us what is stressing you out, and we will get on it. We are listening and we can help.”

Step Three: Crisis Intervention

A highly visible, 24/7/365 physician hotline where any provider can call for help and support. This service is the gateway to a physician-specific EAP program. Physicians will not use traditional EAP systems. This program ensures that doctors have their own pathway to help and support when in crisis.

Cultural Message:

Never fail to affirm “We have your back.”

Step Four: An active, organization-sponsored social calendar

Before the mergers and acquisitions that created today’s mega-groups, practices were smaller, physician-led, and much more collegial. We knew all of our partners and most of their family members. This social aspect of healthcare has mostly fallen by the wayside as hospitals and groups rapidly accumulate surrounding practices. Without a social bond with your group and co-workers, it is very easy to feel like a cog in a big machine, only valued for your last month’s RVU production.

With just a small budget, some creativity and the same “ask the people what they want” survey mentality as the BPWG above, you can create a vibrant social calendar for your physicians and staff. You can re-establish the social glue that lets us see each other as humans again.

Cultural Message:

Revert to time-honored patters, expressing “We value you as a person and want to get to know and support you and your family.”

This blog post excerpts an article in our complimentary eBook, Workforce Readiness: Preparing Today for Tomorrow’s Unknown. Download it here.

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