Using Incentives to Promote Physician Wellness


Physician wellness is a subject that's often ignored. Because physicians are typically more focused on caring for their patients than they are for themselves, it needs to be addressed and taken seriously. Physicians may work long hours, notably so during their residence period, and that can quickly manifest in exhaustion and burnout. For these reasons, it's important that physicians get involved in physician wellness programs and learn to take care of themselves as well as they do their patients. Using rewards and incentives can encourage this behavior.

Physician Wellness Studies

Though there have been a number of studies done about physician burnout that clearly show it's a problem, most studies haven't addressed adequate solutions. One recent physician wellness study in Germany laid out resilience strategies used by healthy physicians, and most were unsurprising. As for most people, work-life balance is huge, as is making time to spend with family and friends. Other strategies mentioned were setting firm limits on patients, colleagues, paperwork and hours spent at work, and taking scheduled breaks during the day.

However, it should be noted that some resilience techniques like scheduling contact with colleagues to discuss patient issues or errors can be invigorating. Goal setting, regular continuing education and personal reflection are helpful as well. Finally, using one-on-one support like coaching, supervision or psychotherapy was cited by some physicians in the study. 

Using Rewards and Incentives to Promote Physician Wellness

Employee wellness programs exist at most of the large hospitals in the country. Some wellness items are mandated by the employers, like the Cleveland Clinic’s controversial nonsmoking rule. Others are presented to employees with varying incentive choices that encourage physicians and other center employees to respond favorably to the guidance offered.

One common way of encouraging wellness is with insurance premium discounts. However, this might not be as much of an incentive for a high-salaried physician as it is for other workers. For that reason, alternative incentives often achieve better results. For instance, a cash incentive, or a gift card, can be motivating if it’s given in combination with acknowledgment of an accomplishment. There's no perfect answer for each program; consider your audience and your physicians when choosing incentives.

Data About Physician Wellness Programs

Studies on physician wellness programs have mixed results, and no program is exactly the same as another. Still, there are some common successes that can be touted. For instance, many companies point to savings in health care costs and sick time.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently wrote about how Johnson and Johnson points to numbers that say its wellness program has saved over $250 million over the past decade, for a return of $2.71 for every dollar spent on the program. That's money well spent, especially since it leads to happier and healthier employees.

HBR discussed another study done on a single employer by a pair of physicians. This particular employer offered cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training from experts over a set period. The results showed that 57 percent of those initially considered high risk were converted to low-risk status at the end of six months. These are stunning results, and even better, this program yielded a savings of $6 for every dollar invested.

Physician (and employee) wellness programs work. Create one for your practice and reap the benefits of better health, lower health care costs and less anxiety overall.


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