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  • Writer's picturePaul DeChant MD, MBA

Improve Practice Efficiency to Reduce Healthcare Burnout

What's keeping healthcare leaders up at night?

For most it is some combination of staffing shortages, financial challenges, and newly arriving well-funded disruptive competitors. In such a challenging milieu, focusing on innovating the work environment and workflow may unfortunately take a back seat due to executive attention bandwidth limitations.

Burnout is a root cause of many of these challenges. If you are like me, you probably didn't have a lot of exposure to managing burnout, for your organization, or for yourself, in your training, whether you are a clinician or an administrator.

The Stanford WellMD model for improving professional fulfillment has been designed to reduce burnout for clinicians. Executives will do well to understand and engage with the model, including the vital role they play in reducing burnout for clinicians.

The model focuses on three categories of support/improvement:

  1. Personal resilience

  2. Practice efficiency

  3. Culture of wellness

Let's look at each briefly.

Personal Resilience - Important but Insufficient

Personal resilience is vitally important to be able to function effectively in the high-intensity settings in most hospitals and clinics. It is also absolutely insufficient as the sole approach to reducing burnout.

Many clinicians, myself included, have an incorrect core belief that somehow self care is selfish. We must acknowledge this and overcome it. If we care poorly for ourselves, our performance caring for our patients and working with our colleagues suffers.

But resilience can only take us so far. When working in an environment full of waste, errors, psychological risk, and cognitive overload, clinicians can't "yoga and yogurt their way out of burnout."

Practice Efficiency - What Clinicians Really Want

Studies have shown that doctors and nurses spend about one-third to one-half of their time doing the meaningful work that drew them into the healing professions in the first place. Half to two-thirds of their time is spent on meaningless administrivia, such as entering data, hassling with bureaucracy, or fixing problems that crop up in the middle of a busy day. The AMA calls that "stupid stuff".

And yet experts tell us there is a shortage of nurses and physicians. Is there really? Or is there a shortage of time available for clinicians to do clinical work. Imagine the potential for improvements in productivity, quality, safety, access, patient experience, and financial performance if you could "flip the ratio" by Getting Rid Of Stupid Stuff. The AMA's acronym for this is GROSS.

It is possible to flip the ratio, if leaders invest in workflow redesign (driven by the people who do the work) that includes incorporating recent tech innovations convert speech to text, automatically review the chart for pertinent information, and prep the visit by pending orders that might otherwise be missed. Such activities consume an inordinate about of physician and support staff time.

We are already seeing forward-thinking healthcare provider organizations improving key performance indicators while their clinicians are spending less time after work with their EHR and more time with family and friends.

Culture of Wellness - Healthcare Leadership's Responsibility

A clinician's responsibility is to care for patients. As a leader, your responsibility is to care for your clinicians. Doing so effectively requires a different management system and culture. As a leader, you have control over this, whether you lead a team as small as two or three colleagues, or a health system with 20,000-30,000 employees.

This requires empowering front-line clinicians to release their capacity for improvement. This empowerment must be accompanied by alignment around

enterprise-wide success. You can't transform your teams by fiat or micromanagement.

There is much more to say about how leaders foster a management system and culture of wellness. We'll save that for another post.

Your Partners in "Beating Burnout and Building the Bottom Line"

These recommendations are easy to make, and hard to implement. If you are not sure how to get started, talk to me and to my colleague, Bruce Cummings. We have formed Organizational Wellbeing Solutions, a new firm focused on helping leaders at all levels to approach their opportunity in this new way that counters the drivers of burnout and positions you for organizational resilience and competitive advantage.

Your doctors and nurses will thank you for making their jobs better.

Your boss (or Board of Directors) will thank you for the improved performance.

And your loved ones will thank you because your personal life will improve as your professional pressures reduce.

Ready to learn more? You can schedule a call with us here, or email us here.

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