Healthcare Facilities

Addressing physician burnout through improved clinician engagement

Smiling physician

Physician burnout is real. In fact, 44 percent of physicians say they are experiencing burnout, according to the Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019. And a full 10 percent say their burnout is so severe they are considering leaving medicine.

In an effort to retain those valuable physicians — and to address and prevent burnout — many healthcare organizations are beefing up their provider engagement efforts. CentraCare Health, based in St. Cloud, MN, decided to go big with its provider engagement program. It hired a provider engagement officer to raise awareness and promote meaningful, long-term provider engagement.

Dr. Dawn Ellison, the Clinical Partner Engagement Officer for CentraCare, says the organization “recognized the severity of the burnout problem,” and knew it needed more than “a one-off presentation” or sporadic retreats to keep people engaged in the issue. “There needs to be follow up,” says Dr. Ellison. “Provider engagement is a marathon not a sprint. It’s a major culture shift.”

Here are some of the things Dr. Ellison has learned during CentraCare’s provider engagement marathon.

Seek the providers’ voice

Before jumping in with new strategies and programs for provider engagement, Dr. Ellison says it’s important to get providers involved “in addressing the drivers of burnout. I’m a big proponent of the team approach, getting all the stakeholders involved in the solutions.”

“It’s about voice,” she adds. “Give them voice regarding things that take them away from patient care. There are things that other people can do for them, but there are a lot of problems that we need their voice to solve. If what leaders do is just take the pebbles out their shoes, we miss the opportunity to discover with them that the real solution may be to pave the road.”

Be patient with the process

Effective provider engagement simply takes a lot of time and effort. And you can’t do it in the top levels of the organization and hope it somehow trickles into departments. The work must take place on the ground within the various departments and work groups.

Dr. Ellison explains that it’s important to have a “champion” within the department to spearhead the process and keep it moving forward. Then the department must schedule meetings where providers can pinpoint issues and develop a ranked list of possible solutions. Within CentraCare, Dr. Ellison educates change agents so they can take their teams through the process. She is available to help as needed, and she also provides individual coaching.

Medical professionals chatting during break

Build strategies for success

In addition to the strenuous, department-by-department work of engaging providers, Dr. Ellison created organization-wide programs to bring providers together across departments. Some of those strategies include:

Clinical provider forums. Dr. Ellison says the quarterly provider forums are a “high-level” way to engage physicians and other providers. “Providers are assigned to represent the different departments, but anyone can come if they are interested in the topic,” she says. “The time is spent learning from the providers and discussing how they are implementing things. The goal is for our leaders to say, ‘This is what I heard from you, and this is how what you said is going to make a difference.’”

Wisdom Circle. The Wisdom Circle is an opportunity for providers “to reflect on the joys and challenges of our privileged presence working with patients and families.”

Wellbeing retreats. These retreats offer keynote speakers and workshops. “Some of the sessions at past retreats were healthy diet, accessible mindfulness practices, healing touch, and the mental health stigma,” Dr. Ellison says. “It’s kind of a wellbeing buffet that they can sample and get involved with if they want to learn more about it.”

Working for change

Dr. Ellison says CentraCare Health is on a long-term provider engagement journey, but the organization is starting to see results from its efforts. “We have participated in a Minnesota Hospital Association burnout survey for the past 3 years, and we have seen improvement on the burnout part of the survey,” she says.

Make no mistake — provider engagement requires a real investment of both time and resources. But the effort is crucial if you want to keep providers happy, prevent burnout, and retain your doctors.

What is your organization doing to fight physician burnout? Share in the comments below.