Medical practice burnout is nothing new. For decades, countless providers and staff in healthcare organizations have suffered job burnout. But the Covid-19 pandemic has supercharged stresses on your employees by an order of magnitude, increasing harms to people and your business.
Pandemic Stresses on Medical Staff
The statistics are sobering. Over half (54%) of doctors said that they were seriously considering retiring, leaving medicine, or changing employers, according to our analysis of a February 2021 survey by Jackson Physician Research.
But it’s not just physicians who are vulnerable. All clinical and administrative staff in a medical practice can succumb to stress, overwork, emotional exhaustion and anxiety about Covid exposure, from nurses and medical assistants to schedulers, receptionists and administrators. The consequences are serious, ranging from an individual’s mental health crisis to lower quality of care and reduced patient satisfaction.
And the pandemic has added unique stressors contributing to additional medical practice burnout. “The politics raging around masks and vaccines are making everything more stressful in healthcare,” says Kenneth Hertz, a healthcare consultant. “Medical receptionists and call-center people are on the front lines of this.”
Helping Your Organization Address Burnout
It’s been challenging to make operational changes in this climate. Yet 76% of medical practices have done so in 2021, according to an MGMA Stat poll. Here are ideas for tweaking your technology and processes to address some of the root causes of burnout.
1. Solicit staff and provider feedback from the beginning
Now more than ever, it’s critical to empower employees by giving them greater control over their work environment. Start by asking staff for input on how technology and processes can be improved – and keep asking for their ideas throughout implementation.
Hertz advises: Ask front-line people: Where are there operational redundancies that can be eliminated? What else needs to be fixed? And what are your suggestions for fixing it? If necessary, execute process improvement in small chunks.
2. Automate what you can to make your staff’s lives easier
It may seem obvious: To avoid contributing to burnout, technologies used daily by clinicians and staff must not be needlessly complex. But ask any employee at a medical practice and they will have a ready list of their frustrations with digital solutions.
So when you choose new technologies, elevate ease of use to a must-have. From online self-scheduling to integrating with your Practice Management platform so data is available across systems, byzantine user interfaces produce a steady stream of annoyances that exacerbate burnout in staff and providers.
3. Innovate scheduling to lighten the contact center’s burden
In the search for ways to reduce burnout, there’s often low-hanging fruit in patient-scheduling processes and practices. “Communicate and collaborate to look at new ways of scheduling,” says Hertz.
To begin, automate appointment scheduling and reminders as much as possible to take pressure off staff and reduce overtime. Centralized scheduling solutions and mobile online scheduling are two ways your practice can enhance the experience for your team and your patients.
You can also encourage patients to schedule multiple needs for one appointment when possible. For example, as the influenza season threatens to piggyback on the pandemic, offer any patient scheduling a Covid-19 shot the opportunity to get a flu shot at the same time. Coupled vaccinations could reduce the burden on administrative and clinical staff by reducing the number of shot appointments.
4. Empower staff and providers to flex schedules to their personal needs
Choose and use scheduling software that enables providers to optimize their workdays to their family needs and personal preferences while keeping patient care their first priority. Involve providers in the design of scheduling templates and give them as much choice as possible in where and when they work.
5. Configure telemedicine to relieve pressure on providers and staff
Promoting telemedicine appropriately can help you serve patients while also helping to bring revenue back to pre-pandemic levels without a proportional burden on administrative and clinical staff.
Now that so many patients have some experience with telehealth, virtual visits can significantly reduce the burden on support staff by eliminating some in-person check-ins and check-outs. Intentionally scheduled blocks of telehealth appointments can also give providers the gift of zero commuting time on their work-from-home days.
6. Restructure workflows to facilitate hiring and employee development
“Consider restructuring jobs to accommodate less-experienced applicants,” writes Chris Harrop for the Medical Group Management Association. This strategy can accelerate hiring and also enable high-potential staff to move up in the organization while spending less time on repetitive tasks that could be contributing to medical practice burnout.
The combination of process and technology enhancements can minimize time spent on onboarding new staff and schedulers as well. This makes it easier on your practice overall, current staff, and new staff — enabling them to get up to speed more quickly rather than spending hours training to learn questions to ask and rules or preferences of specific providers.
7. Prioritize people: Communication and time to breathe
In addition to rejiggering processes and technology to reduce stress, practices are taking steps to demonstrate care for the health and welfare of all employees. “Medical groups need to acknowledge that burnout is real,” says Hertz. “Administrators need to ask their staff, ‘How are you doing?’ ”
“There’s a lot of frustration and stress,” says David Zetter, president of Zetter HealthCare, a management consultancy. “And now there are more angry patients. It’s important to have open communication with providers, so they don’t take out their frustrations on staff and patients.” It may make sense to schedule periodic manager-staff check-ins.
Zetter also advises groups to think about allowing staff to take more frequent short breaks. Scheduling a common lunch break is another way to give your people time to decompress as a group.
Finally, ensure that all employees have affordable access to mental health services.
Additional Resources to Help Your Medical Staff
Covid-19 has no doubt brought stress to all levels of medical, specialty, and hospital groups as well as patients. As healthcare organizations battle exhaustion amidst other issues, providing the proper support across your organization culturally, technologically, and operationally can help ease some burdens.
Here are some additional resources we’ve collected to help you and your organization manage burnout:
John Rossheim is a guest contributor who covers healthcare, diversity, recruiting, and human resources.
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