Keys to reducing clinician burnout
Clinician burnout is a high-stakes, complex puzzle that undermines our healthcare systems. When innovators begin to look for causes in an attempt to unravel the complexity, excessive workload and documentation pressures are well-known. Looking deeper, other factors that don’t often get the spotlight emerge that could be responsive to internal initiatives focusing on quality improvement paired with change management.
Studies have found that the disconnectedness of healthcare IT systems and resulting landslide of automatic emails can subtly contribute to clinician exhaustion. Care providers frequently toggle between disparate systems, an inefficient process fostering frustration and mental fatigue. One solution is pursuing seamless system interoperability. By investing in integrated healthcare IT platforms, healthcare organizations can streamline workflows, diminish cognitive load, and refocus energies toward patient care, thus decreasing burnout.
Another under-discussed contributor to clinician burnout is the ‘tyranny of the urgent,’ where healthcare professionals often prioritize urgent tasks over essential ones, leading to a vicious cycle of stress and burnout. A possible remedy lies in adopting Lean Six Sigma methodologies, promoting process improvement and efficient task prioritization. Through reducing patient wait times and unnecessary steps through better workflow design, clinicians can better balance urgent and essential tasks, attenuating the associated stress.
The absence of positive feedback combined with work overload can lead to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Humans thrive on recognition; it fuels engagement and productivity. Therefore, leveraging quality improvement management systems to create a culture of recognition can be transformative. It’s not just about acknowledging high performers; it’s also about celebrating small wins and growth milestones, fostering a sense of achievement and belonging.
One less conspicuous burnout factor is lack of autonomy, a factor that also contributes to inequity and inefficiency. Research indicates this can be addressed through reforms that decentralize decision-making and locate autonomy closer to patients, in keeping with the modern trend of patient-centric care models. An NIH study that reviewed a wide segment of literature found that decentralization empowers frontline workers, fostering ownership and engagement, thereby buffering against burnout. Change management practices can facilitate this shift towards decentralization, fostering a healthier work environment.
So, while clinician burnout is a multifaceted issue, targeting these hidden factors with innovative change management and quality improvement systems can bring about substantial improvements. The journey towards a burnout-free healthcare environment challenges us to continually unearth, understand, and address both the evident and the subtle triggers.
It’s not just about building a more efficient healthcare system, but also about creating a more compassionate one, for caregivers as well as for patients.
Building on extensive experience in the fields of journalism, media production, and learning design and development, John Marc Green’s newest adventure is serving as Director of CHIME Innovation. In this role, his ongoing conversations with CHIME Members and Partners provide insights and direction to serve their interests in a variety of ways, including digital healthcare innovation journalism, professional development events and program facilitation, and on-demand educational development through CHIME Innovation.