How Ochsner is combatting physician burnout amid COVID-19

During an Oct. 28 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by the American Medical Association, healthcare leaders from the AMA and Louisiana-based Ochsner Health discussed how health systems can look upstream for the drivers behind physician burnout. 

Ochsner Health and the AMA partnered to effectively measure clinician burnout, identify effective interventions, and implement strategies that improve physician well-being thus driving higher-quality patient care.

The presenters were:

  • Nigel Girgrah, MD, PhD, Chief Wellness Officer and Medical Director of the liver transplant program at Ochsner Health 
  • Christine Sinsky, MD, Vice President of Professional Satisfaction at the American Medical Association
  • Jim Gilligan, Vice President of Health System and Group Partnerships at the American Medical Association

Key takeaways about driving physician well-being: 

1. "Authentic, vulnerable leadership is more important now than ever," Dr. Girgrah said, acknowledging the duality of clinician work. Being a clinician is more than just being a medical professional — the work can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional health, Dr. Girgrah explained. At Ochsner, professional well-being is considered a key organizational quality indicator. The organization is offering all employees in-person support, decompression zones and staff support lines this year.

Ochsner partnered with the AMA to measure and analyze actionable data to better understand staff, improve patient care and drive value, Dr. Girgrah continued. To measure factors influencing well-being and burnout, Ochsner and the AMA used a 10 question survey evaluating work environment, work pace and EMR-related stress. The findings were used to assess job satisfaction, burnout symptoms, care team efficiency and workload control, among other professional dimensions. Ochsner was able to use a calculator provided by the AMA to conservatively estimate the financial cost of physician burnout and the potential cost savings that would be realized by decreasing burnout. 

2. "While burnout manifests in individuals, it originates in systems," Dr. Sinsky said. Amid the pandemic, more than 70 health systems across 28 states have utilized the AMA's Coping with COVID survey. In an April 6-June 1 cohort of 10,000 respondents, more than half of health system employees reported a high fear of virus exposure, while more than a third of respondents said they were experiencing high anxiety and/or depression. Nursing assistants, housekeepers and nurses reported the highest stress levels, along with persons of color. Protective factors, or factors tied to lower stress scores, included feeling valued by the organization or having a strong sense of purpose. 

3. Pandemics have historically been tied to a reduction in the healthcare workforce. In the AMA survey, 20 percent of respondents said they were moderately or highly likely to transition to part-time status over the next year. Over 30 percent of respondents said they planned to leave their profession or position over the next two years. To combat this, leaders need to foster a resilient organization that protects and supports individuals within it, Dr. Sinsky said.  

4. The AMA provides, one-stop, actionable resources at StepsForward.org, including modules related to the culture of wellness, efficiency of practice, professional fulfillment and personal resilience. Success stories and case studies are also provided for each module. Dr. Sinsky concluded by echoing Dr. Girgrah’s earlier statement: "Our people are the key to our success, well-being is the key to theirs."

If you are interested in learning more about the AMA’s resources to monitor the well-being of your physicians and care teams during COVID-19, CLICK HERE, and enter “Becker’s” under “How did you hear about us?” For more information on other resources to improve physician satisfaction at your health system, email us now.  

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