Burnout is far from a novel issue in healthcare, and for the past decade, our industry has worked hard to identify, examine, and alleviate it. However, with every well-intentioned step forward, we seem to hit a new hurdle and stumble backward yet again — pushing our healthcare workforce to an existential brink.
Just this week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory as burnout reaches crisis levels across the industry and wreaks devastating consequences on clinician and staff retention, patient outcomes, and mental wellness across the workforce.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at three key ways that health leaders can help to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their clinicians and staff.
Clinical providers are driven by a core ethos to “do no harm” and do good by keeping people well. However, mounting administrative tasks and digital solutions has only resulted in more screen time with technologies and less face time with patients. And the work isn’t confined to the four walls of the clinic: According to AMA’s 2022 National Burnout Benchmarking report, 1 in 3 clinicians report spending 6 hours each week — almost an entire extra workday — working in their EHR during “pajama time,” outside of their normal working hours and within traditional rest periods.
Health systems and hospitals should ensure they’re investing in technology that serves their workforce — not the other way around. By optimizing clinical solutions and simplifying daily workflows, clinicians and staff can spend more time with patients while still capturing key information in each encounter. Not only can this make a meaningful impact on mental workload, it can also help to restore the sincere joy of care that drew them to healthcare in the first place.
Despite the bustling energy of the health system and hospital environment, the act of care itself — and, by extension, the experience of clinicians and staff — can often feel lonely and isolating. After the past two years of unprecedented and pandemic-induced isolation throughout the healthcare ecosystem, it’s more important than ever to explore new tools and approaches for collaboration — such as mobile-ready communication and messaging platforms or a regular cadence of care team huddles — to help rebuild connection points across care teams and enhance overall team engagement.
By bringing clinicians and staff together for group decision-making, cross-team rounding initiatives, or simply to connect on a regular basis, health leaders can cultivate a culture of community from the bottom up. And amid healthcare’s staffing shortage crisis, collaboration has also become a critical key to unlocking a seamless experience for clinicians, staff, and patients alike.
In order to truly work at the top of their licenses, clinicians and staff must feel safe, secure, and empowered in their health system or hospital. However, workplace violence has been a longstanding issue in healthcare settings, and has only been exacerbated by the stress and grief brought on by the pandemic: A recent survey found that 9 in 10 healthcare workers have experienced or witnessed violence from a patient or a patient’s caregiver in the past month alone.
When people feel physically safe at work, it can have an immense positive impact on their psychological state and holistic health and wellbeing. Health systems and hospitals across the globe have made strides to prioritize and improve patient safety. Health leaders should ensure they’re placing the same emphasis on safety for their clinicians and staff through a combination of rapid response tools, de-escalation tactics, and always-on site support.
Mental Health Awareness Month provides a moment in time to reflect on what we can continue to do better to improve the mental wellbeing of the healthcare workforce — but it can’t be where the conversation ends. Let each day bring a new opportunity to destigmatize discussions around mental health and reinvigorate our drive to ensure clinicians and staff across the globe feel heard, cared for, and supported. After all, our collective health and wellness depends on it.
Howard Grant, JD, MD, Retired CEO Lahey Clinic and Health System Former CMO Geisinger Health