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    Fighting physician burnout at three levels

    From yoga to mindfulness meditation, there are no shortage of solutions for physicians experiencing burnout.

    However, “to start with individual changes is like telling the canary in the coal mine they should just try harder,” says Christine Sinsky, MD, vice president of professional satisfaction at the American Medical Association (AMA), and a general internist.

    She considers physicians “highly resilient” as a group and emphasizes, “If this group is struggling, the environment must be particularly problematic.” 

    Sinsky believes that change has to happen (and is happening) at three levels:

    Individual practices

    Change can certainly start with individual physicians. In her own general practice of the past 30 years, where she still works 20% of her weekly hours, she has implemented changes “focused at the level of work flow and task sharing where the day-to-day work happens.” She believes that most primary care practices can save three to five hours of patient care every day by reengineering the way work is done.

    To facilitate these kinds of changes, the AMA has created a series of free online practice transformation toolkits that include videos and downloadable PDFs, which qualify for continuing medical education units (CME), and are approved by Medicare’s Quality Payment Program (QPP) as improvement activities. They are organized into categories such as professional well-being and patient care, though it’s the modules on workflow that she thinks are the most practical for physicians.

    For larger medical systems, she recommends their newest module, called the Organizational Foundation for Joy in Medicine, which makes plain that what’s good for physicians is good for the bottom line, as well: “A more engaged, satisfied workforce will provide better, safer, more compassionate care to patients, which will, in turn, reduce the total costs of care,” the module notes.

    This module also includes business calculators that allow a medical institution or team to calculate the time or money they will save with a particular intervention by adding a dollar value to the number of physicians they must replace due to burnout. “That will be permissive to organizations to consider investing in activities that will reduce burnout,” she says.

    Next: EHRs causing burnout

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