How to reduce physician turnover through improved clinical communications

High turnover among healthcare professionals is a serious and costly problem. Turnover among primary care physicians leads to an additional $980 million in healthcare costs each year, according to research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Unless health systems address the underlying issues that drive clinician turnover, it will be difficult to achieve local and national health goals.

Becker's Hospital Review recently spoke with Angel J. Mena, MD, chief medical officer of symplr Clinical Communications, about how new approaches to clinical communication can reduce high turnover rates among primary care physicians, nurses and other providers.

In addition to his role at symplr, Dr. Mena has been a practicing physician in the fields of primary care and hospital medicine for the last 10 years. He also serves as associate program director for internal medicine at Cincinnati-based TriHealth.

Burdensome workflows are a major contributor to clinician burnout, but better clinical communication can help

The first step in addressing burnout is recognizing that a major problem exists and taking action. "We can't be shy about this issue," Dr. Mena said. "Turnover isn't limited to doctors. It's also affecting nurses and medical assistants. Everyone is suffering and that, in turn, is having a negative impact on patients." 

To identify solutions, health systems are starting at the top. Many innovative organizations have created a role in the C-suite, such as a chief wellness officer or chief wellbeing officer, to address employee turnover. These individuals focus on identifying and treating the conditions that lead to turnover. According to Dr. Mena, "Most of the time, those are related to burnout."

One of the primary causes of clinician burnout is the growing encroachment of operational and administrative work duties into what was formerly pure clinical time. "Listening to people and spending time with them are critical elements of patient care," Dr. Mena said. "Unfortunately, physicians are spending less time with patients today because we are completing documentation or trying to find the appropriate person in the healthcare system to take care of an individual's needs. That's where clinical communication is essential.

Health systems must develop comprehensive clinical communication strategies and then implement platforms that support those strategies. "This enables physicians to connect with the right person at the right time. If I need a cardiologist, for example, I can connect with them immediately. There's no wasted time trying to identify who will care for patients," Dr. Mena said.

To strengthen clinical communication, it's important to look at both workflows and outcomes. As Dr. Mena noted, "Which workflows will impact the outcomes that you're looking for? Do you want to improve patient care? If so, then you must define the workflows that will improve patient care. That may be reducing delays in care, avoiding unnecessary utilization of hospital resources or decreasing morbidity and mortality."

When health systems implement a clinical communications platform with the right scheduling system, it's possible to build stroke or acute myocardial infarction teams to decrease the time required to care for patients and reduce morbidity and mortality.

It is also possible to connect patients more effectively with their primary care physician's office, so they don't have to go to the emergency department. This prevents unnecessary utilization of hospital resources. "By implementing a clinical communications platform, there are countless workflows that we can address and improve," Dr. Mena said.

When selecting a communications platform, assemble a team to consider the clinical perspective

One key to implementing a communications platform that will benefit clinicians is creating a team that will view the solution from a holistic point of view. "It's not just about finding a solution to one specific problem. You need to look at the clinical workflow as a whole," Dr. Mena said.

Once an organization has formed its selection team, it can then begin the process of finding the right clinical communications solution. It's crucial that the system connect with text messaging and voice calls. It also must connect with the health system's scheduling system and support role-based communication. That will help identify the right people at the right time.

"When we build teams in healthcare, the schedules are very complex," Dr. Mena said. "You need a comprehensive clinical communications platform that understands how to route the right information to the right person. That's what you must look for and that's what we offer at symplr."

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