Viewpoint: Employers need to actively prevent physician burnout

Although physicians are often encouraged to address burnout by building resilience through meditation and vacation time, resilience alone puts the burden of wellness on the physician without addressing what promotes burnout, Lalita Abhyankar, MD, a New York City-based family physician, writes in an American Academy of Family Physicians blog post.

"Therefore, for reasons of profit and customer satisfaction, physician wellness must become, in part, the responsibility of the employer," Dr. Abhyankar writes.

Some healthcare organizations are starting to understand their role in promoting wellness, with several systems appointing chief wellness officers to lead interventions on improving employee engagement. But these interventions must be thoughtful and intentionally designed to address burnout symptoms or they risk seeming to be insincere and a waste of time, Dr. Abhyankar says.

"That is why I challenge employers to ask physicians, 'What do you need to do your best?' And then, to deliver those resources," she says.

Dr. Abhyankar says she informally asked medical assistants, nurses, social workers, administrators and physicians what they would need to do their best and saw several patterns emerging.

Employees want employers to implement skills-based training to standardize care as opposed to learning things on the fly, allot protected time for employees to discuss new evidence-based practices with colleagues, allow for longer visits with patients and give enough time to complete daily tasks efficiently.

Employers can also help by giving options for flexibility in employees' schedules for child care, meaningful opportunities to bond with co-workers and leadership training so employees can share the burden of heavy workloads.

"Everyone wants to serve patients the best they can, but it is equally as — if not more — important to guarantee our own capability to provide care in a joyful, positive and constructive manner," Dr. Abhyankar writes. "If employee engagement and loyalty lead to more revenue, better patient outcomes and more patient satisfaction, then it is a winning scenario for us, our company and, most importantly, our patients."

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