Restoring humanity in healthcare: How to counter America's physician and nurse burnout crisis

Physicians and other healthcare leaders are taking the reins to address and prevent burnout, to restore joy to the practice of medicine, and reset the future of the profession.

Editors' Note: Want to learn more about solutions to address the important issue of physician and nurse burnout? Register here for an upcoming Becker’s Web seminar, “Caregiver Burnout: Does Technology Help or Hurt?” featuring the author of this article, Bridget Duffy, MD, and David B. Pryor, MD, EVP, Chief Clinical Officer of Ascension. In this webinar moderated by Becker’s Hospital Review Editor-in-Chief Molly Gamble, Drs. Duffy and Pryor will address how health systems can leverage technology to take a leadership role in optimizing physician and nurse well-being, as well as other important issues.

Today, half of doctors, nurses and healthcare administrators say they are burned out, with 30 percent of primary care doctors aged 35 to 49 years stating they expect to leave the profession. While this raises the specter of a physician shortage in the coming years, of equal concern, it means that many of the providers working today may be depressed, overwhelmed and exhausted—while still seeing patients.

There is light on the horizon, however. Physicians and other healthcare leaders are taking the reins to address and prevent burnout, to restore joy to the practice of medicine, and reset the future of the profession.

Re-instilling caregiver resilience

Anyone who has spent time in a busy hospital has seen it or experienced it: Overburdened physicians, nurses and other staff members who have fallen victim to fatigue, stress and frustration. In response, more hospital leaders are taking steps to equip employees with technology that makes their jobs easier or provides solutions and support to help them cope with challenging situations.

One example of a human-centered innovation that many hospitals have implemented to address care team well-being is a Code Lavender™. A Code Lavender recognizes that when emotional crises occur in the hospital, it is important to acknowledge and address them as is done when physical crises occur. Like a Code Blue that is called when a patient needs immediate resuscitation of the heart, lungs or brains, a Code Lavender is called to ask caregivers to direct healing intention or prayer to those in need of emotional resuscitation. Originally conceived for patients or family members going through a difficult decision or transition, Code Lavender also extends a rapid response team to provide emotional support for employees, nurses and physicians during times of high stress.

Re-connecting care teams

Of course, the success of any initiative designed to give clinicians much-needed rest for mounting stress and anxiety depends on clinician willingness to admit when they have reached their limits. Here, a strong organizational cultural based on trusted relationships is also required to foster such candid admissions.

Operational infrastructure and processes that allow nurses and physicians to focus on delivering care will also go a long way to reduce fatigue and frustration. Too much of caregivers' valuable time is spent at a computer or trying to track down information, supplies or co-workers. We need solutions that return nurses and physicians back to the bedside. We need solutions that help nurses and physicians do their job – not make it harder for them. Something as simple as a better communication tool can improve workflows, collaboration, relationships and job satisfaction. All these factors, in turn, affect patient care and safety.

Healthcare organizations that achieve the greatest success recognize that patient experience and quality of care are directly linked to staff experience and employee empowerment. By improving communication and building cultures that restore human connections and compassion, care teams will be able to deliver better patient experiences.

Restoring joy to the practice of medicine

Many prospective physicians lose their desire to practice medicine before they even finish medical school. A redesign of the curriculum could change this, especially one that emphasizes team-based training; puts the patient-physician relationship front and center; and includes training in how to recognize and address burnout.

Post-training, new and veteran physicians must be able to meet technical obligations in ways that don’t detract from patient interaction. Yes, technology is a key player in healthcare. It facilitates billing, enables patient record-keeping, and the ability to quickly share vital information in the hospital. But physicians and patients alike are frustrated when the provider spends the bulk of a patient visit staring at a screen rather than making eye contact with patients and truly listening.

Additional solutions abound for forging a stronger physician-patient bond. These include creating care models that make patients partners in their care; engaging insurance companies in reform; designing new feedback mechanisms to capture the voice of the patient and family, and more. For a more detailed look at these and other solutions, download the free report “Physician Burnout in America: A Roadmap for Restoring Joy and Purpose to Medicine,” a collaborative research effort between myself and other physicians and healthcare leaders.
As America’s healthcare needs expand, so too will the roles of everyone on the patient’s care team. We must all work together to restore humanity to the practice of healthcare—to make the patient and provider experience the best it can be.


Bridget Duffy, MD, is Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications and leads the company’s Experience Innovation Network. Vocera solutions provide hands-free voice communication, secure text messaging, patient engagement tools, and integrated clinical workflow with EHRs, nurse call systems and physiological monitors. Used by more than 1,000 hospitals and health systems worldwide, Vocera solutions are revolutionizing how care teams communicate, collaborate and coordinate care.


Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars