Proven Strategies to Reduce Medical Practice & Physician Burnout
Physician or healthcare professional burnout refers to a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, often accompanied by feelings of cynicism and detachment from work. It can result from prolonged and excessive stress, overwhelming workloads, and a sense of being unable to meet the demands of the profession.
The prevalence of burnout in the healthcare industry is a significant concern. Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, including long working hours, high patient loads, administrative burdens, lack of control over work conditions, and the emotional toll of dealing with patients' suffering. While the most obvious impact of burnout is reflected in physicians and healthcare professionals, the unfortunate downside is that it can also negatively affect patient care, reducing positive patient outcomes and overall patient satisfaction. It is a multifaceted issue that requires the attention of both the individual caregiver, as well as the organization that employs them.
Understanding Medical Practice Burnout
Burnout is an unfortunate phenomenon in all industries but is especially present in the healthcare industry due to several factors. These factors include excessive workloads, lack of work-life balance, a lack of organizational culture, administrative burdens piling up, inadequate resources to meet the demands of the practice, job insecurity, lack of support systems, and, of course, the emotional toll of being a practicing physician.
The signs and symptoms of burnout may seem obvious, but in an organization where everyone is suffering from the same malady, it can often fly under the radar. It can be tricky to identify the symptoms in one’s self, let alone in others. Here are just a few of the symptoms to look out for:
- Emotional Exhaustion: The feeling of emotional emptiness, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, reduced empathy.
- Depersonalization: Cynical or detached work attitudes, emotionally detaching from patients, increased irritability.
- Reduced Personal Accomplishment: Doubting the value or competence of one’s work, decreased satisfaction.
- Physical Symptoms: Excessive or chronic fatigue, insomnia or irregular sleep, becoming sick more frequently.
- Cognitive Impairment: Forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions.
- Isolation and Withdrawal: Social withdrawal, including from friends and family, as well as colleagues.
- Changes in Behavior: Engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, and expressing feelings of frustration and disillusionment openly.
7 Tips for Addressing Physician Burnout
1: Cultivate Self-Care Habits
Making time for self-care is critical in all industries and all people, not just in the healthcare industry. Burnout can happen in any profession, but the emotionally and physically demanding nature of healthcare makes it stand out among the rest. The unfortunate reality is that anxiety and depression falsely instill the belief that a sedentary, relaxing lifestyle is the best treatment for negative feelings, but the reality is that these behaviors trap a person suffering from burnout in an unhealthy, negative loop.
Physicians can establish a positive work-life balance by setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care through regular breaks and hobbies, delegating tasks, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (including diet and exercise- it may be difficult to get active while feeling down, but getting the blood flowing can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on mental health), taking vacations, engaging in continual professional development, practicing mindfulness, and periodically reassessing priorities. Learning to disconnect, seeking help when needed, and avoiding overcommitment contribute to a healthier work-life balance, fostering job satisfaction and overall well-being.
2: Enhance Workplace Support Systems
Healthcare organizations must employ any tactics within their power to address burnout in their practice to continue providing a high level of care on an ongoing basis. By allowing healthcare professionals to suffer from burnout, your quality of care is diminished, and the practice as a whole will ultimately suffer. To alleviate physician burnout, healthcare organizations can foster open communication, encouraging a supportive environment for expressing concerns.
Providing confidential counseling services, wellness programs, stress management programs, and yoga and mindfulness programs have all been shown to effectively combat burnout. Team-based approaches and collaborative support are also essential, as they instill confidence in the simple fact of knowing that a person who is suffering is not alone. Streamlining administrative tasks and reducing workloads wherever possible are also critical to reducing burnout and enhancing patient care. Supporting ongoing skill enhancement via mentorship programs and development opportunities can also keep physicians and healthcare professionals engaged and excited.
3: Streamline Administrative Tasks
Administrative burdens can be painstaking and time-consuming, which can easily result in burnout, reduced efficiency, and reduced care quality. Utilizing effective EHR/practice management systems such as NexHealth can be an easy, affordable, and effective way to increase practice efficiency with near-immediate results.
By allowing patient portals and self-scheduling capabilities and automating administrative tasks, you free up time throughout the whole organization which allows for more patient facetime, increased quality of care, and reduces burnout by removing the burden of paperwork from the shoulders of physicians and caregivers.
4: Foster a Positive Work Culture
A negative or uncaring culture instills the same feelings in the employees of a practice, regardless of their role or title. Simple things can often get the ball rolling toward a more positive professional environment, and a little effort can have compounding benefits along the way. Small efforts like encouraging appreciation, celebrating achievements, and fostering positive support throughout the organization can increase feelings of comfort and decrease feelings of isolation.
Positive feedback and collaboration also help to foster a sense of community in an organization, reducing the number of lone wolves in the practice. Creating a community as opposed to a well-oiled machine will engage all types of healthcare employees, and will create a sense of togetherness that will help address burnout, sometimes before it can even take root.
5: Develop Emotional Resilience
Emotional resilience is not the practice of building walls around the heart. Instead, it is a system of wellness that helps a person engage with their emotions, identify them, and react to them in helpful ways, as opposed to destructive ones. Developing such resilience does take time and effort, and requires a certain level of engagement. Some methods include mindfulness and meditation training, which help people to relax and reflect, instead of bottling and ignoring their emotions.
Stress management training is pivotal in addressing burnout, as stress is one of the main causes of the condition. By providing programs that teach stress management, an organization can express care for their employees through action rather than words. Organizations can also offer courses on emotional intelligence to enhance their employees’ collective level of empathy, self-awareness, and emotional regulation.
6: Enhance Time Management Skills
Utilizing time management strategies is difficult for just about anybody, in any profession. There are proven methods that help increase time management skills, but staring down the barrel of a huge workload can often send them all flying out the window. That is why it is crucial to provide the necessary tools to a healthcare organization to increase their efficiency and enhance their time management.
Enhanced time management can have as simple a start as prioritizing tasks and setting realistic goals. Work tasks often come in herds, leaving a sense of being overwhelmed and forced to tackle them all at once. By instead prioritizing the tasks and setting realistic goals for completion, it all becomes much more manageable. This could also include delegation, as well as the ability to say no when it proves necessary. Everybody wants to feel helpful and capable, but everybody also needs help from time to time- to be able to delegate to a capable person is a powerful tool, but being able to say no when you’re overwhelmed can be even more so. Finally, proven and effective tools that help streamline tasks around an office can be crucial to reducing burnout and enhancing productivity and time management. To automate something as simple yet time-consuming as appointment booking can free up otherwise busy hands, allowing for more time for more critical tasks.
7: Promote Professional Development and Growth
People in all professions often feel forgotten or stuck, as their chosen company hires them for a specific job, and the journey ends there. The importance of continuous learning and growth cannot be understated, as it instills a sense of capability and confidence in people that cannot be undone. Regardless of where a person might take the skills and development provided to them by an organization upon completion is of little importance compared to the enhanced quality of work and care provided by a person feeling a high level of personal satisfaction.
An organization that provides opportunities for growth shows that they care about their employees inside and outside of the workplace, which can help eliminate feelings of being stuck, which can reduce the likelihood of burnout. Try sending employees to conferences, workshops, and training programs to help them grow, so that they can help you grow.
NexHealth Offers Scheduling and Automation Solutions to Help Reduce Burden on Your Staff and Schedulers
As you have read, there are a large number of ways to prevent, address, and even reverse burnout in the healthcare industry. Some of these methods are easy and free; others take time, effort, and a small financial obligation that will pay huge dividends. No matter your chosen method, the fact is that you must choose something, as burnout is highly contagious and completely detrimental to any healthcare organization.
The physicians and caregivers at any given practice aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of exhaustion. By providing automated digital administrative systems to everyone within a practice, the results will compound across all departments.
NexHealth can drastically reduce the administrative burdens of an entire office via self-scheduling features, automated reminders, and marketing communications, managed reviews and feedback prompts, waitlist features, digital forms that prevent waste and save time, seamless integration with existing systems, robust training and support, and the ability to suit the needs of any sized practice. By utilizing the outstanding features that NexHealth offers, you can help move mountains (of paperwork) for your organization, which will be able to breathe a collective breath of fresh air.