5 Tiers to Prioritize Physician Burnout Interventions


Physician burnout impacts 45.2 percent of physicians in the United States, which can lead to patient safety incidents, unpleasant bedside manners, a toxic work environment, and a negative reputation for your organization. The physicians may become disengaged with their work, develop mental illness, suffer from poor health, or regret their career choices.

When your organization faces physician burnout, it's important to prioritize the right intervention areas to get the best results. Use this five-tier hierarchy to guide the systems that you put in place to address burnout in your physicians.

Tier 1: Physical and Mental Health

You look at the base level physical and mental health of your physicians, as it's difficult to work on other areas if your workforce isn't healthy. A lack of sleep, poor eating, and dehydration lead to physical wellness issues. On the mental health side of things, depression and suicide rates are higher than other professions.

Some ways that your organization can support physicians at this tier is to assess mental health and offer employee assistance programs, have areas where physicians can sleep on-site, and make it easy for them to stay on top of their nutrition and hydration needs.

Talk to your physicians to see the areas that they're struggling with the most in this tier. When they can stop feeling hungry, thirsty, and tired all the time, they're able to better focus on their work and well-being.

Tier 2: Safety and Security

Patients or their families and friends may become violent in certain situations, which leaves your physicians at risk of being injured or traumatized. You can minimize the chances of an incident getting out of control by having enough healthcare staff to handle patients coming through the doors, putting security staff in the right places, and having physicians go through de-escalation training.

Tier 3: Respect

Respect can go a long way towards making physicians feeling less burned out. Healthcare professionals who feel that they're respected by their supervisors had an 89 percent better job satisfaction compared to those who didn't receive adequate respect.

When they're constantly exposed to irate or abusive patients, along with technology that seems like it's working against them, it becomes difficult to avoid burnout. Several ways to intervene in this area is to always give physicians a reply to their requests, have policies in place to deal with abusive patients, and ensure that EHR systems are user-friendly and have adequate training resources.

Tier 4: Appreciation and Interpersonal Connections

Everyone wants to feel appreciated in the job they do, and physicians are no exception to this rule. Specifically, people in leadership positions need to be the ones showing this appreciation and connecting with physicians. Your organization can improve in this tier by paying competitive wages for your physicians, giving them appreciative feedback, highlight their successes publicly and seek out ways to connect with your workers socially.

Tier 5: Healing Patients and Contributing to the Fullest of Abilities

Physicians go into the healthcare field to help and heal people. When they run into roadblocks that make it difficult to contribute in the best way possible, it leads to a lot of frustration. Look for opportunities to reduce the backend load on physicians so they can focus on treating patients. Provide them with the time and resources to perform clinical research in their specialization and mentor their peers, or receive mentoring themselves.

Prioritize Interventions Based on Your Organization's Specific Needs

The tier ranking is a good guide to get you started, but it's not set in stone. Your physician workforce is compromised of unique individuals who experience burnout in their own ways. You may end up finding it more useful to look for ways to improve respect than creating interpersonal connections among physicians and leadership, or need to focus on the ways that your employees contribute over appreciation.

This hierarchy exists as a general guide, but it's not the only factor that goes into putting together a physician burnout intervention program. You also want to keep in mind the costs associated with various initiatives and whether your organization can support them long-term.

Addressing the most pressing causes of burnout is a good way to get started, but you'll want to progress to ways to proactively limit physician burnout.

Tracking the Success of Your Well-being Initiatives is Critical

Choosing the right priorities for your healthcare organization is the first step towards improving physician burnout. However, you need to measure how successful each initiative is to decide whether your priorities must adjust.

You may think that one tier is more important than another for your physicians, but this assumption may be incorrect. When you track your performance, you have the necessary data available to determine whether you're correct or if you need to change.
Give your physicians convenient communication channels so they can give you their feedback. This first-hand information is critical for developing programs that truly meet their needs and your business goals.

Physician burnout results in many negative consequences for the employee and your organization. By prioritizing the areas that need the most attention, you can put your well-being initiative resources into the most efficient places.

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