NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # LIGHTHOUSE Healthcare. Illuminated.

Burnout

Is this a good time to be a physician? Absolutely! In fact, I believe there has never been a better time to practice medicine. I hold this belief despite the barrage of negative comments and predictions from doomsayers remarking on the sorry state of health care in its current state.

Before I tell you why I’m so optimistic, I’d like to acknowledge one fact: practicing medicine is more complex and difficult than ever, however, this fact doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm. There is no doubt that over the past two decades a great many changes in the health care environment have consumed doctors’ time, distracted us from our core task of providing care, and impacted our incomes.

Meanwhile, patients’ expectations of the health care industry and of their physicians are changing. An increasing number of people want more involvement in their own health care and want to partner with their physician. So it is not hard to understand how practicing medicine can feel more challenging than ever.

For example: results from a national survey reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 indicated that US physicians suffer from more burnout than other American workers.

Burnout, in this report, was defined by “loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment”; 45.8% of responding physicians had at least 1 of these symptoms.

So why am I so optimistic?

Because when I read these survey results, and others like them, bureaucracy and complexity are often cited as the reasons why physicians are unhappy. Not patient care.

While these factors (bureaucracy and complexity) can momentarily take physicians away from their passion of practicing medicine, it is the passion of a physician, precisely, that fuels my optimism for the state of health care today.

Continue reading “Actually, It’s a Great Time to Be a Doctor”

Share on Twitter

Quality improvement (QI) and patient safety initiatives are created with the laudable goal of saving lives and reducing “preventable harms” to patients.

As the number of QI interventions continues to rise, and as hospitals become increasingly subject to financial pressures and penalties for hospital-acquired conditions (HACs), we believe it is important to consider the impact of the pressure to improve everything at once on hospitals and their staff.

We argue that a strategy that capitalizes on “small wins” is most effective. This approach allows for the creation of steady momentum by first convincing workers they can improve, and then picking some easily obtainable objectives to provide evidence of improvement.

National Quality Improvement Initiatives

Our qualitative team is participating in two large ongoing national quality improvement initiatives, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Each initiative targets a single HAC and its reduction in participating hospitals.

We have visited hospital sites across six states in order to understand why QI initiatives achieve their goals in some settings but not others.

To date, we have conducted over 150 interviews with hospital workers ranging from frontline staff in operating rooms and intensive care units to hospital administrators and executive leadership. In interviews for this ethnographic research, one of our interviewees warned us about unrealistic expectations for change: “You cannot go from imperfect to perfect. It’s a slow process.”

While there is much to learn about how to achieve sustainable QI in the environment of patient care, one thing is certain from the growing wisdom of ethnographic studies of QI: buy-in from frontline providers is essential for creating meaningful change.

Frontline providers often bristle at expectations from those they believe have little understanding of the demands of their daily work.

Continue reading “The Dangers Of Quality Improvement Overload”

Share on Twitter

Yesterday at the faculty meeting, we learned that the first year residents in anesthesia will now have to take AND PASS a written exam at the end of their first year.  They will have a certain number of tries and if a resident can’t pass it by the third try they’re either out of the program or held back in some way.  Now, it used to be when I was a baby resident that the first year residents took the certification exam that the third years took, and it was graded on a curve based on year.  You didn’t have to pass it or get a certain grade; it was sort of a reality check, to see how you were doing.  I don’t know who’s brilliant idea this new test was, other than the people who administer and charge for the test.  It might be a solution in search of a problem, I have no idea.

Here’s the thing.  Testing freaks residents out.  They have been taking high-stakes tests their whole entire lives.  In high school they had to get As and score a 1400 on the SAT.  In college they still had to get As, but also had to ace the MCAT.  In med school the tests might have been pass/fail but USMLE Steps 1 and 2, both of which are taken during med school, certainly weren’t.  Results of those had bearing on what residency you got into.  The result of all this standardized testing is that every resident has PTSD about tests, and every resident has had years to figure out how he or she can most quickly cram in the amount of information necessary to do well on the test.  Residents are masters of this.  There is absolutely no reason to read the textbook, which is likely 8 years out of date anyway, when you can go straight to the review books and practice exams online.  Especially if the threat of expulsion or repetition, both of which are disasters on multiple foreign and domestic fronts, is held over their heads.

Continue reading “No Resident Left Behind”

Share on Twitter

A few weeks ago, The Health Care Blog published a truly outstanding commentary by Jeff Goldsmith, on why practice redesign isn’t going to solve the primary care shortage. In the post, Goldsmith explains why a proposed model of high-volume primary care practice — having docs see even more patients per day, and grouping them in pods — is unlikely to be accepted by either tomorrow’s doctors or tomorrow’s boomer patients. He points out that we are replacing a generation of workaholic boomer PCPs with ”Gen Y physicians with a revealed preference for 35-hour work weeks.” (Guilty as charged.) Goldsmith ends by predicting a “horrendous shortfall” of front-line clinicians in the next decade.

Now, not everyone believes that a shortfall of PCPs is a serious problem.

However, if you believe, as I do, that the most pressing health services problems to solve pertain to Medicare, then a shortfall of PCPs is a very serious problem indeed.

So serious that maybe it’s time to consider the unthinkable: encouraging clinicians to become Medicare PCPs by aligning the job with a 35 hour work week.

I can already hear all clinicians and readers older than myself harrumphing, but bear with me and let’s see if I can make a persuasive case for this.

Continue reading “An Indecent Proposal That Just Might Solve the Primary Care Crisis: Meet the 35 Hour Work Week”

Share on Twitter

A little over a year ago, I found myself burning out and realized that my worklife was unsustainable.

I’d been working at an FQHC clinic, and had become the site’s medical director a few months before. I was practicing as a primary care doc, trying to improve our clinical workflows, problem-solving around the new e-prescribing system, helping plan the agency’s transition from paper charts to electronic charts, and working on our housecalls and geriatrics programs.

All of this was supposed to be a 50% position — plus 5% paid time for follow-up — because I had two young children that I wanted to have some time for, and was also working one day/week for a caregiving website (Caring.com).

Needless to say, this job was taking far more than 55% of my time, and seemed to be consuming 110% of my psyche. I very much liked my boss and colleagues, was learning a lot, and felt I was improving care for older adults.

But I was also irritable, stressed out, and had developed chronic insomnia. And clinic sessions were leaving me drained and feeling miserable: try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to provide care to my (and my patients’) satisfaction with the time and resources I had available.

One evening my 3 year old daughter looked at me and asked “Why are you always getting mad and saying no?”

Good question, kiddo.

A few weeks later, I told my boss that I’d be resigning my position in 5 months. And I started trying to reimagine how I might practice geriatrics.

My current clinical practice, which I launched last October, is the result of that reimagining.

Continue reading “One Woman Brand: How one Doctor Started Over Again With a New Practice, a New Specialty and a Great New Outlook on Life”

Share on Twitter

Being a doctor isn’t a happy profession in 2012: 3 in 5 doctors say that, if they could, they’d retire this year. Over three-fourths of physicians are pessimistic about the future of their profession. 84% of doctors feel that the medical profession is in decline. And, over 1 in 3 doctors would choose a different professional if they had it all to do over again.

The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit organization that represents the interests of doctors, sent a survey to 630,000 physicians — every physician in the U.S. that’s registered with the AMA’s Physician Master File — in March-June 2012. The Foundation received over 13,000 completed surveys back. Findings from these data are summarized in the Foundations report, A Survey of America’s Physicians, published in September 2012.

Morale among physicians is much lower than it was in 2008, as shown in the first chart. Five years ago, less than 1 in 2 doctors would opt to retire; that’s up by over one-third. What’s driving doctors toward pessimism are the least satisfying aspects of practicing medicine in 2012, including:

Concerns about liability, 40%
The hassle of dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and government regulations, 27%. Over 52% of doctors said they’ve limited access to Medicare patients to their practices, or they’re planning to do so.
Lack of work/life balance, 25%
Uncertainty about health reform, 22%
Paperwork, 18%. The survey found that physicians spend over 22% of their time on non-clinical paperwork, resulting in a huge clinical productivity loss.
EMR implementation as a “least satisfying” aspect of work is quite low on the roster of concerns, with only 9% of doctors noting that as a prime concern in 2012.

As a result of uncertainty due to health reform, regulation and finance/reimbursement, the percent of physicians who remain independent will drop to 33% in 2013, Accenture forecasts, from 57% in 2000, 49% in 2005, and 43% in 2009. Aligning with a health system/hospital gives doctors more economic security and fewer administrative hassles.

Continue reading “3 in 5 Physicians Would Quit Today If They Could”

Share on Twitter

I cleaned out my office yesterday.  I gathered up the outdated pictures of my family, handwritten notes from my children when they were much younger, pictures of patients, notes from patients, and the knick knacks that accumulate over 18 years of being in one place.  Most of them were dusty or worn with the tarnish of time; things that sit in the office unnoticed until a moment like this.

I also went through the files of old information – information I seldom if ever used – detailing the financial struggles it took to build a successful practice.  Here’s what we collected in 1998.  Here are the notes from an office administration meeting in 2002.  Here are handwritten flow diagrams I made to figure out a way to improve workflow.  Here’s a list of patients from 2000 who were eligible flu shots with a sticky note affixed to the folder saying: “give to Angie.”  I’m not sure I ever gave it to her.

The majority of paper, however, was spent on spreadsheets.  There are spreadsheets of productivity, of income, of expenses, projected income, effects of adding new partners, of quality measures and of the ever ominous accounts receivable.  These are numbers my distractible brain always had difficulty wrapping around, yet they stand as a testament to the myriad of details that work in the background of life.  They mean even less to me now than they once did, like the dates on gravestones for people long forgotten, yet their existence reminds me that these days were not the dusty pictures sitting on the shelves of my memory; they were days of many small details and struggles.  Life looks like a movie from the outside, but its reality is found in the spreadsheets it leaves behind.

Continue reading “Destination Unknown”

Share on Twitter

It happened again.  I was talking to a particularly sick patient recently who related another bad experience with a specialist.

“He came in and started spouting that he was busy saving someone’s life in the ER, and then he didn’t listen to what I had to say,” she told me.  ”I know that he’s a good doctor and all, but he was a real jerk!”

This was a specialist that I hold in particular high esteem for his medical skill, so I was a little surprised and told her so.

“I think he holds himself in pretty high esteem, if you ask me,” she replied, still angry.

“Yes,” I agreed, “he probably does.  It’s kind of hard to find a doctor who doesn’t.”

She laughed and we went on to figure out her plan.

This encounter made me wonder: was this behavior typical of this physician (something I’ve never heard about from him), or was there something else going on?  I thought about the recent study which showed doctors are significantly more likely than people of other professions to suffer from burn-out.

Compared with a probability-based sample of 3442 working US adults, physicians were more likely to have symptoms of burnout (37.9% vs 27.8%) and to be dissatisfied with work-life balance (40.2% vs 23.2%) (P < .001 for both).

This is consistent with other data I’ve seen indicating higher rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide for physicians compared to the general public.  On first glance it would seem that physicians would have lower rates of problems associated with self-esteem, as the medical profession is still held in high esteem by the public, is full of opportunities to “do good” for others, and (in my experience) is one in which people are quick to express their appreciation for simply doing the job as it should be done.  Yet this study not only showed burn-out, but a feeling of self-doubt few would associate with my profession.

Continue reading “Burnout”

Share on Twitter

MASTHEAD


Matthew Holt
Founder & Publisher

John Irvine
Executive Editor

Jonathan Halvorson
Editor

Alex Epstein
Director of Digital Media

Munia Mitra, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Vikram Khanna
Editor-At-Large, Wellness

Maithri Vangala
Associate Editor

Michael Millenson
Contributing Editor










About Us | Media Guide | E-mail | 415.562.7957 | Support THCB
© THCB 2005-2013
WRITE FOR US

We're looking for bloggers. Send us your posts.

If you've had a recent experience with the U.S. health care system, either for good or bad, that you want the world to know about, tell us.

Have a good health care story you think we should know about? Send story ideas and tips to editor@thehealthcareblog.com.

ADVERTISE

Want to reach an insider audience of healthcare insiders and industry observers? THCB reaches 500,000 movers and shakers. Find out about advertising options here.

Questions on reprints, permissions and syndication to ad_sales@thehealthcareblog.com.

THCB CLASSIFIEDS

Reach a super targeted healthcare audience with your text ad. Target physicians, health plan execs, health IT and other groups with your message.
ad_sales@thehealthcareblog.com
WORK FOR US

Interested in the intersection of healthcare, technology and business? We're looking for talented interns to work in our San Francisco offices. Get in touch.

Wordpress guru? We're looking for a part time web-developer to help take THCB to the next level. Drop us a line.

BLOGROLL

If you'd like to be considered for our Blogroll, drop us an email and we'll take a look. While you're at it, why not add us to yours?

SUPPORT
Let us know about a glitch or a technical problem.

Report spam or abuse here.

Sign up for the THCB Reader here.
Log in - Powered by WordPress.