Identifying and addressing healthcare burnout: An expert view
By Jacob Fisher of Phreesia • March 1, 2023
Want to combat burnout before it happens?
Consider these strategies from Paul DeChant, MD, a physician executive with 30+ years of experience.
There’s no shortage of research showing that clinician burnout has reached epidemic levels, but it’s also pervasive among administrative healthcare staff.
As recently as 2018, an MGMA study found that medical front-office and business operations support staff had a combined 30% turnover rate, and that was before COVID-19 exacerbated the problem. Now, understaffed healthcare organizations are grappling with sky-high vacancies—and nearly three-quarters of medical practice leaders say their organizations’ staff turnover rates have plateaued or worsened.
If left unresolved, the widespread mental fatigue felt by front-office, billing and scheduling staff have the potential to disrupt operations, jeopardize retention and damage the patient experience.
“As we’re coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing the biggest increase in exhaustion that we’ve ever seen,” says Paul DeChant, MD, a physician executive with more than 30 years of clinical and management experience in medical group leadership. “The workplace itself is so complex and so challenging that it’s almost impossible, in many cases, to do the job effectively without good support.”
During a recent Phreesia webinar, DeChant—who advises healthcare organizations on how to reduce physician burnout—shared some of the strategies he employs to help medical practices retain staff, keep them engaged and make their jobs easier. Read on to learn about three ways you can prevent staff burnout before it happens.
1. Give staff time to focus on resilience
It goes without saying that healthcare workers are resilient. No doubt, resilience is crucial for anyone who works in an often chaotic, time-pressured environment. But when administrative staff are overloaded, mental exhaustion is bound to follow, leaving them unable to effectively perform their jobs.
That’s why the onus is on healthcare leaders to help their teams gain personal resilience. Put simply, it’s about empowering staff to take care of themselves.
“Personal resilience is based on this core premise that self-care is not selfish,” DeChant said. “There’s some reward in knowing you’re sacrificing yourself to help someone else, but we can’t do it to the point where we sacrifice ourselves so much that there’s nothing left to give.”
To give employees the space to care for themselves, medical practice leaders should look for ways to automate manual workflows. Removing repetitive tasks from staff members’ daily responsibilities gives them the time and flexibility they need to practice self-care.
“We wouldn’t go into healthcare if we didn’t care about others,” DeChant said. “But taking care of ourselves is absolutely vital. And we have the opportunity, if we address this properly, to make a real difference.”
2. Address the management system and culture
A medical practice’s management system and culture shapes the way that employees care for and relate to each other in the workplace. When staff feel valued and appreciated, their satisfaction goes up, and burnout goes down.
To build a culture where staff feel acknowledged, healthcare leaders should focus on three key tenets: respect, resources and recognition.
“When we do this well, we can really reduce cynicism by empowering people who have great ideas about how to do things differently,” DeChant said.
It takes leadership to make that happen—and for most organizations, it’s tough to know where to begin. To establish a supportive culture, DeChant encourages medical practice leaders to:
- Emphasize autonomy as a necessity. Remember that administrative work is knowledge work. Giving staff the freedom to creatively solve problems helps motivate everyone to do their part to achieve organizational success.
- Promote psychological safety. No one should be punished or humiliated for speaking up, whether to pitch an idea or admit fault for a mistake. Psychological safety hinges upon creating an atmosphere where people feel valued and know they are trusted to do their jobs well.
- Set up a daily huddle. Take a few minutes at the start of each day to recognize accomplishments, determine resourcing needs and assess goal performance. Investing time to make sure your staff feel heard gives them the chance to positively contribute to the workplace—and their input can give leadership important insights into how to handle complex challenges.
- Embrace rounding. Spend time with your staff while they work so you can see what’s going well and what isn’t. That perspective will help you brainstorm ways to help overworked staff find meaning in their jobs—whether by more frequently recognizing their efforts, providing high-touch support or using technology to automate time-consuming tasks.
3. Improve efficiency with technology
During a typical week, the average worker spends more than 40% of their time on emails, administrative duties, wasteful meetings and other nonessential responsibilities. Repetitive tasks like these—or “administrivia,” as DeChant calls them—are a major contributor to burnout.
So, how can healthcare leaders give their staff more time to accomplish meaningful work? Invest in digital solutions that make their jobs easier.
“Every time you’re doing multiple keystrokes, ask yourself whether this is something that could be done in a different way,” DeChant advised. “If you’re searching through your schedule trying to find open slots, there’s technology out there that can help you do that so much more efficiently.”
In addition to reducing administrative burdens, many automated tools empower patients to take a more active role in their care—from self-scheduling appointments and answering screening questions to completing intake forms on their own device. By offering a seamless, digital healthcare experience, you can improve patient satisfaction while giving your staff more time to accomplish meaningful work.
But before investing in any digital tools, it’s important to solicit input from the front-office staff who would most frequently use them.
“When you’re in the middle of the day and feeling overwhelmed, you probably have a good idea about how to fix things,” DeChant said. “So, it’s important that the people who do the work are involved in redesigning the work. You need to commit some time to really understand and engage.”
This blog was syndicated with permission from Phreesia.