15 leaders on why hospitals should hire a chief wellness officer

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In an op-ed for Health Affairs, leaders from Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, the New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Health System, and others explain how the creation of a new executive leadership role can help hospitals and health systems fight clinician burnout.

Patient care at hospitals across the nation is being compromised by increasing rates of burnout among clinicians, and health systems "can no longer afford to ignore what has become a major public health issue," the authors write. Each day, clinicians are faced with the mounting burdens of the profession, leading to increased anxiety and stress. A culture shift is necessary to create environments in which clinicians can thrive.

That shift, the authors write, is not possible without concerted efforts at the executive level. To help fight clinician burnout, the authors suggest the creation of a new executive position: the chief wellness officer. That individual will be a central and senior advocate to "prioritize, protect, and promote the well-being of all clinicians with the authority and ability to significantly influence culture," they write. Such a position would also convey to the hospital and medical staff that clinician well-being is of equal importance to that of quality, informatics and data in the sustainability and success of the organization.

"In the past two decades, healthcare has seen the establishment of chief safety and quality officers (CQO) to improve quality of care for patients, and chief information and technology officers (CIO) to manage growing data and electronic health requirements," the authors write.

"While programs proven to promote well-being may exist in disparate areas of the health system, it is now time to elevate, scale and centralize these activities. The CWO is and will be a central and senior advocate to prioritize, protect, and promote the well-being of all clinicians with the authority and ability to significantly influence culture."

However, the authors note that executive leadership support for the position is imperative and gives legitimacy and financial support to the individual holding the CWO title. Hospitals have a financial incentive to invest in clinician well-being, as burnout and depression results in enormous costs to the health system through an increase in medical errors, reduced quality of care, turnover and other issues. The authors cite a specific study in which researcher found that for every dollar invested in wellness, hospitals can see a $3 to $6 return on investment.

"While we acknowledge that establishing a CWO is not a cure-all, the CWO would support programs to enhance clinician well-being and therefore lower costs over the long term," the authors write.

To access the full op-ed, click here.

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