By Pearl Darling, Executive Director, Ambulatory Care Services
After two years working in a pandemic, the national conversation has rightfully shifted to workforce health and well-being. COVID-19 has exposed the fact that there’s still a lot of work to be done in this arena and the time to take better care of the healthcare workforce is now.
According to a Jan. 21, 2022 article in Becker’s ASC, physicians in outpatient clinics are the most likely to report burnout. The piece expanded on Medscape’s 2022 Physician Burnout and Depression Report and cited a 12% increase in physician burnout in outpatient clinics since 2020. This setting represented the highest rate of burnout at 58%. This is certainly not a new problem and it’s not one limited to physicians. The pandemic added stress on clinicians including:
- increased patient load
- greater administrative burden
- staffing issues
While I don’t personally have the solution and no single organization has all the answers, I am encouraged at some movement in the right direction to address this issue. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) published a Resource Compendium of Key Resources for Improving Healthcare Worker Well-Being. The Joint Commission supports many caregiver support programs and is particularly encouraged by this initiative.
6 Essential Elements for Caregiver Well-Being
One of the strongest aspects of the compendium is the actual outline of the elements of healthcare worker well-being. Resources are organized into six essential elements, based on Organizational Evidence-Based and Promising Best Practices for Clinician Well-Being. Each element has associated toolkits to get started, offer case examples, “build the case” documentation and more. These are incredibly valuable resources and below some of my favorite parts of each element.
1. Advance organizational commitment.
Establish a Chief Wellness Officer position. The American Medical Association (AMA) STEPS Forward™ provides a step-by-step guide for incorporating this position into the C-suite, citing advantages from improved patient care to stronger finances to better retention.
2. Strengthen leadership behavior.
The AMA’s Building Bridges Between Practicing Physicians and Administration module helps improve communication and build trust. Relationships are strained between these two groups, even though both are highly trained, skilled, and knowledgeable. This disconnect exacerbates key drivers of physician burnout.
3. Conduct workplace assessment.
This is a critical step and there are several excellent tools designed to assess the current status of the workplace, in order to understand the baseline that an organization can build on to establish well-being and burnout guidelines.
5. Enhance workplace efficiency.
There are so many excellent tools here but healthcare workers will find particular value in AMA’s STEPS Forward Series Taming the EHR. As they say, the EHR is here to stay but many medical practices have more control than they realize.
6. Cultivate a culture of connection and support.
This tool reminds organizations that healthy and functional employees need to return home with emotional energy at the end of each day. It’s impossible to select only one resource so I invite you to read more about physician suicide prevention, peer support programs, mental health help for nurses and so much more.
The last two years have brought us to our knees and shown us that the health of the healthcare workforce is our society’s most critical need. None of us have all the answers but this resource is a positive step in the right direction.
Pearl Darling, MBA, is the Executive Director for Ambulatory Care Services at The Joint Commission. In this role, she directs business development, strategic direction and overall product line management. Darling also is a member of The Joint Commission’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council to promote awareness and education around these important topics. She serves as a board member on the ASC Quality Collaboration (ASC QC). Darling has been with The Joint Commission enterprise since 2001.