Hackensack Meridian Health chief wellness officer on building system to prevent burnout

Amy Frieman, MD, is a 10-year veteran of Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health, and she recently took on a new role as chief wellness officer for the organization.

In this new position, she will be responsible for establishing interventions to improve the clinician experience. She previously served as corporate medical director of palliative care services for Hackensack Meridian, a 17-hospital integrated network. 

Dr. Frieman told Becker's Hospital Review she is looking forward to positively affecting patient care through her new role. She shared her goals for the chief wellness officer position, discussed challenges she faces and revealed the message she wants to get across to physicians and nurses. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has you most excited about your new role as chief wellness officer of Hackensack Meridian?

Dr. Amy Frieman: The opportunity to make a true impact on our clinical caregivers and in doing so to make an impact on patient care.  

Q: What are a few of your top priorities for your first year at Hackensack Meridian?

AF: There's an epidemic of burnout in healthcare. About half of physicians report burnout, [and] it's estimated that a million patients lose their physician to suicide every year. So, this is a serious problem, and doctors and nurses are leaving medicine in record numbers. We're overwhelmed with clerical tasks, with documentation, with insurance authorization and metrics. These are slowly eroding the joy of practicing medicine — the connection with our patients. 

What I'm hoping to do is to be able to fix the system around our clinicians. It's not about fixing our clinicians. It's about fixing the system we've put them in, that they're working inside. I will work to implement and scale network-level interventions that can improve the clinician experience. An example is we have to optimize the end user experience of the electronic health record. For every hour we spend in patient care, we're spending two hours documenting. We need to do a better job of making sure the health record is working for those end users. We have to look at the way our practices are set up to make sure they're optimized in a way that we're able to practice team-based care, so all of our providers can work at the highest level of their licensure. 

I think self-care is incredibly important, and when we hear about well-being and wellness, I think people jump to the idea of self-care, which is part of what I hope to achieve. But it's only a small part. The rest is really looking at the systems we've built and trying to improve those. 

Q: What challenges will you face in your new position?

AF: Communicating with such a large group of clinical providers is a challenge itself. When you have a group of already overwhelmed care providers who have a lot on their plates, when they hear it's a wellness intervention or a well-being intervention, it's often met with skepticism. I need to be able to convince them this is something that is worthwhile for them and that it's not just one more thing to add to their plate but is something that ideally will help them.

Q: As chief wellness officer, what message do you want to get across to physicians and nurses? 

AF: I think it's critically important when thinking about the well-being of our clinical team that it's the [healthcare] system [overall] that's broken. It's not the providers who are broken. I think that's an important message. Telling our nurses or physicians to be more resilient or to be mindful or to practice yoga, those are important, but they're not going to solve this problem, because it's the system around our care providers that is broken.  


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