This time of year is chaotic for most everyone. But for physicians and hospital administrators, the stressors of healthcare-related mandates, patient needs, fast-paced EDs, flu season, and more make the group a demographic susceptible to burnout. Nearly half of all physicians report feeling one or more symptoms of the condition, says the Advisory Board.

Burnout does not discriminate, and affects veteran physicians and new residents alike.

The results of two separate studies published in JAMA found that 45 percent of second-year residents surveyed report having at least one symptom of the condition.

"The survey of more than 3,500 second-year resident physicians found that 14% of those surveyed reported they would 'definitely not' or 'probably not' choose to become a physician again, while 7% of respondents indicated they definitely or probably would not choose the same medical specialty if given the chance to remake their choice."

(It's worth noting that the studies listed emergency medicine residents among specialties with the highest prevalence of burnout.)

Aside from the toll on providers, burnout can adversely affect patient care and even the healthcare business itself.

“Burnout is linked to a 16 percent decrease in patient satisfaction, an 11 percent increase in reported medical errors, increased turnover, and early retirement,” according to Advisory Board statistics.

The question then is, what can hospital administrators do to prevent physician burnout, not only during the holidays but also any time of year?

Increase Physician Engagement

The Advisory Board Survey Solutions team developed a four-question index that identifies physicians at risk for burnout. After analyzing organizations' engagement and burnout data, they found a negative correlation exists between burnout and engagement.

"The more engaged physicians are, the less likely they are to be at risk for burnout," says the Advisory Board, which recommends that hospitals make the following engagement opportunities available to providers:

1. Hardwire physician involvement in strategic decisions. Giving physicians a seat at the decision-making table promotes a sense of understanding and autonomy regarding large strategic initiatives that may impact their practice.

2. Embed meaningful physician recognition into the workflow. Recognizing physicians early and often shows them that their discretionary effort is noticed and appreciated, says the Advisory Board. It recommends leveraging existing feedback channels to acknowledge providers for their daily work.

3. Create bite-sized leadership opportunities. Make leadership opportunities available to physicians, but in ways that require less time commitment. "Creating opportunities for the non-usual suspects to participate in leadership shows them that their input matters and brings them closer to the organization's mission," the Advisory Board says.

Increasing physician engagement isn't the only recommendation the Advisory Board makes. The infographic Mitigate Physician Burnout: Key Strategies to Help Restore Balance  lists the following:

  • Start with a Physician Listening Campaign: Create safe spaces — one-on-one and in groups — for physicians to report experiences and issues contributing to burnout.
  • Aim for Balanced Feedback: Cut through the negativity directed at physicians by sharing positive feedback, using comments from qualitative sources like patient satisfaction surveys.
  • Break the Silence with Emotional Support: Provide facilitated opportunities for physicians to learn effective communication strategies, reflect on frustrations, and discuss tactics for personal healing.

Physician Burnout Prevention Tips for the Holidays

While the recommendations listed above can be applied any time of year, these tips, from Becker's Hospital Review, are more specific to the holidays:

1. Choose something for which to be grateful and focus on that feeling. The nature of medical care means providers see more than their share of unfortunate situations, illnesses, and tragedies. This can take a psychological toll, especially during the holidays.

The solution: Focus on things for which you are grateful.

Becker's cites a study published through John Hopkins that showed improvement in physician well-being by documenting three things for which they were thankful within two hours of bedtime each day. This conscious shift to gratitude helps "rewire" our outlook and recharge positive energy.

2. Believe that you can positively affect your life. Providers can help themselves prevent burnout by focusing on the belief that they are making a difference, helping promote the healing of others, and contributing to positive outcomes.

Hospital Administration Burnout Prevention Strategies

Providers aren't the only persons subject to burnout during the holidays. Hospital administrators faced with increased staff requests for time off, employee absenteeism due to the flu, emergency department overcrowding, and other factors peculiar to this season, can fall prey to the malady as well.

A recent poll from the Medical Group Management Association supports that assertion with statistical evidence, finding that 73 percent of healthcare leaders feel at least some degree of burnout.

Administrators can employ the following strategies to keep burnout at bay:

1. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Free up time to address pressing issues by delegating less important duties to direct reports and junior staff. “As you provide leadership and management in your organization, consider how you can empower your staff to help them reduce the chances of burnout,” the post says.

2. Reduce conflict with proper hiring practices. Hire for alignment with the organization’s mission, vision, and values and ensure that employees thoroughly understand the tenets. Also, address conflict that occurs quickly and thoughtfully.

Resource: Recruiting the Right & Retainable Doc

3. Set boundaries. The demands of time at work are compounded during the holidays by family obligations, holiday gatherings, parties, and other events. To lower the risk for burnout, establish boundaries and stick to them, even if that means letting others down. Hopefully, they will understand.

The risk of burnout is always present, especially during the holidays. Recognizing the need to address it and utilizing the measures contained in this post is one way to ensure a culture and work environment that does not contribute to its spread.

Keep the light of the holidays burning bright. Prevent burnout!  

Related Reading:

Resource: The Hospital Leader’s Checklist to Impacting Physician Satisfaction
Resource: 5 Ways Hospital Administration Can Promote Work-Life Balance in the ED  
Blog: Setting New Providers Up For Success Part 1: Transitioning from Residency