Physician Health

3 steps to make meaningful, lasting physician well-being changes

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

3 steps to make meaningful, lasting physician well-being changes

Feb 6, 2024

With a chief wellness officer in place, physician well-being prioritized and an understanding that changes will take more than words, it’s time to make meaningful, sustainable changes in each work unit.

There are three key ways to make that happen and have a positive impact on physician well-being. They are: reduce tasks, engage front line physicians and tackle the easy changes first, explains an AMA STEPS Forward® playbook on wellness-centered leadership.

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The playbook presents the reasons why physician well-being is so important and offers concrete things leaders can do to get started on developing a culture of well-being across their organization. It also contains links to numerous sources to help create an environment that establishes the organizational foundation for joy in medicine.

“Wellness-centered leadership is imperative for any industry but is particularly powerful in health care, where the well-being of your workforce directly impacts patient care and the wellness of the community at large,” the playbook explains.

Physicians and other clinicians have seen an overinterpretation of regulatory compliance. And in recent years, there’s been an increase in the pressure to meet or exceed quality metrics. They’re facing more checklists with items they need to cross off and an EHR that has added rules, clicks and protocols to their days.

That only names a few of the items that are part of the already too-heavy administrative burden on physicians.

Health care leaders looking to improve physician well-being—and in turn improve patient care—need to ask, “What can we take off physicians’ plates?” instead of asking, “What else do physicians need that I can provide?”

Finding a way to remove 100 EHR clicks per day will do more for physician well-being in the long term than free food, yoga or massages.

“Ultimately, eliminating burdensome requirements will free up time for physicians to use for their own preferred activities that contribute to well-being,” the playbook notes.

Reducing physician burnout is a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

Far too many American physicians experience burnout. That's why the AMA develops resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters—patient care.

The AMA’s “De-implementation Checklist” (PDF) and the “Stop This, Start That Checklist” (PDF) can help leaders get started with examples of unnecessary work. Meanwhile, the AMA STEPS Forward “Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff” toolkit goes into even deeper detail on how practices or organizations can make changes.

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Become a member and help the AMA tackle the key causes of burnout to provide relief for physicians.

Although the physicians who spend the most time seeing patients are the ones who will likely see the greatest well-being benefits from changes that an organization makes, they are also the least likely to have time and energy to spend on management initiatives.

But they are the ones that leaders need to listen to first. It’s up to leaders to find a way to involve these front-line physicians who are the ones most likely to be burned out in the organization.

The AMA’s “Listening Campaign” toolkit can help leaders engage physicians in conversations to uncover the sources of burnout.

Additionally, the AMA STEPS Forward “Scholars of Wellness” toolkit can help organizations create a formal training program for frontline physicians who want to develop skills to effect change at a system level.

Some changes may seem small—even trivial—to people not experiencing a day-to-day problem, and they may seem like the ones that can be easily implemented.

Those “high feasibility, high impact changes” are among the ones leaders should look to implement first. When those problems are delt with, it can have a huge impact when they are multiplied across the many people who are experiencing the problem.

“These changes can dramatically reduce burnout and increase goodwill and trust between physicians, other clinicians, and leaders,” the playbook says.

The AMA’s “Listen-Sort-Empower” toolkit can help leaders engage with physicians and determine what local problems need to be fixed.

AMA STEPS Forward open-access toolkits offer innovative strategies that allow physicians and their staff to thrive in the new health care environment. These resources can help you prevent, create the organizational foundation for joy in medicine and improve practice efficiency. 

Combat physician burnout