7 ways Lean strategies can combat physician burnout

With nearly half of physicians reporting they've felt burnt out, some healthcare systems are turning to Lean transformation strategies to improve the resiliency of their team members, according to Paul DeChant, MD, an executive director at Simpler Consulting.

"Burnout has grown rampant in healthcare these days and it's a significant issue impact, not just physicians, but all caregivers," said Dr. DeChant.

There are numerous factors contributing to burnout, including an increased demand for service, reductions in reimbursements and pressure to cut costs and meet quality and safety metrics, to name a few. Some of the burnout is attributable to the nature of healthcare workers and their inability to spend as much time with patients as they would prefer.

"People who go into healthcare — clinicians and executives alike — are mission-oriented people who want to make a difference in peoples' lives," said Dr. DeChant. "A lot of the stress they feel is the result of pressures on finances and productivity that make spending one-on-one time with patients more challenging than it used to be."

Lean principles — the same principles which transformed manufacturing — allow executives to better support their managers, who can then better support frontline providers, who can better provide safe, quality care for their patients.

According to Dr. DeChant, lean reduces waste, refocuses priorities on value and serving the patient and reduces burnout for physicians and other care providers in the following seven ways:

  1. Allowing physicians more time to directly connect with and care for their patients by reducing the clerical and data-entry burdens of their work. This is particularly important in the exam room where they can focus eye-to-eye on their patient rather than on a keyboard and a monitor screen.
  2. Hardwiring quality into work, reducing the risk of error or adverse events and reducing malpractice risk.
  3. Improving workflow and reducing patient wait times, meaning the patients are in a better mood when the physician enters the exam room than they would be if they've waited for a long time.
  4. Identifying tasks that a non-physician member of the care team can do, thus reducing the total amount of work required of the physician to get through the day.
  5. Enabling the physician to complete all of the day's work shortly after the last patient has been seen, thereby allowing them to go home earlier without having to log on to the EHR from home to complete the day's charts, messages and test results.
  6. Having physicians work as a member of a team, rather than on their own, enhancing a positive work environment and connection to their co-workers.
  7. Providing workers with the opportunity to recommend and implement their own improvement ideas in a structured process that ensures the effectiveness and stability of the improvement. 

"People who are overburdened tend to feel disrespected. By improving workflows and reducing waste, Lean strategies help physicians refocus on the healing interaction they have with their patients, which allows physicians to be as effective as possible," said Dr. DeChant.

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