Investing in Physician Wellbeing brings a Dual Competitive Advantage

From The Happy MD
By Dike Drummond, MD
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In 2017 an article in JAMA Internal Medicine by Shanafelt, Goh and Sinsky (JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(12):1826-1832) made a comprehensive business case for investing in physician well-being. I highly recommend the article. The UCSD HEAR Program has mounted the full PDF document at this link. I recommend you read and absorb every word.

In this blog post let me show you a different way of looking at the benefits to the organization of taking better care of your physicians and staff. 

The Current State of Affairs

For the individual physician burnout can cause emotional and physical exhaustion, compassion fatigue, cynicism, loss of a sense of purpose in their practice, depression, alcohol and drug use, divorce, shortening of their career and even doubles all physician's risk of dying of suicide - regardless of their gender.

Organizational symptoms of burnout include decreased quality of care and patient satisfaction, higher medical error rates, higher rates of malpractice suits, physician disengagement, dissatisfaction and disruptive behavior and higher turnover for both physicians and staff.

Remember too that burnout prevalence in US physicians in the last 4 years or so has hovered at 50% or more regardless of what group of physicians have been surveyed. Now notice something else ... 

How is it you can read those paragraphs and NOT BE PULLING YOUR HAIR OUT and telling your friends and family not to go to the doctor or hospital until we FIGURE THIS OUT?????

  • Where is the Outrage - I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more?

  • Where is the Manhattan Project for this obvious Public Health Issue?

Better yet ...
Where is Leader who sees the MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY IN THESE NUMBERS?

Imagine the equally pervasive positive effects you can naturally expect from an effective burnout prevention program. 

  • Improved quality of care, patient satisfaction

  • Less turnover, lower error rates and malpractice suits, fewer disengaged and disruptive doctors

  • All of these positive changes are things you can reasonably expect when you lower the prevalence and severity of burnout in your population of physicians and staff

Realize that the effective prevention of burnout is:

  • The Master Key

  • The Golden Ticket

  • The One Ring that Rules Them All

 When an organization distinguishes itself from their regional competitors in two ways:

  • More Efficient Systems of Care:
    Effective work teams and efficient flow of patients and documentation that result in lower stress on the physicians and staff.

  • A More Supportive Culture:
    Leadership structures, training and accountability that produce a culture where providers know they are cared for, respected and listened to.

This organization will automatically accrue a measurable pair of competitive advantages:

1) PROVIDER OF CHOICE

Better Quality of Care will make them the Provider of Choice to two Critical Audiences
- the Payors
- the Patients

  • The payors will see superior quality, safety and patient satisfaction metrics and contract favorably with this healthier organization.

  • The patients will notice a difference in the experience of care coming from the healthier group of providers and staff and beat a path to this healthier provider's doorways

2) EMPLOYER OF CHOICE

The remaining independent physicians in the community will notice how physician employees of this organization are treated differently. When they decide to sell their practice and become an employee, this will be the only organization they consider. 

The Good News

  • Taking better care of your physicians and staff is not rocket science. The situation is more like baseball. Whether you are in Little League or the World Series, there are only four skills to baseball. Prevention of burnout is based on only four consistent action steps.

  • There are hundreds of effective tools to prevent physician burnout both for the individual physician and for healthcare organizations of any size and complexity. Each can be adapted to any individual physician or any organization, no matter how complex. 

  • You already have people who are eager to lead the charge inside your organization. I meet them every day. They are ready to work, itching to get started and can be quickly trained to take effective action.

  • Competition is almost non-existent - very few organizations are doing a good job building out a true Quadruple Aim Organization. The first mover advantage will be massive.

Only Two Questions Remain

1) Will your organization be one of the early adopters - one of the first to take burnout seriously and build your own internal Manhattan Project?

2) If your answer is Yes ... when will you get started?