Physician Health

The AMA is bringing medicine together to eliminate burnout with Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH [Podcast]

. 8 MIN READ

AMA Update covers a range of health care topics affecting the lives of physicians, residents, medical students and patients. From private practice and health system leaders to scientists and public health officials, hear from the experts in medicine on COVID-19, medical education, advocacy issues, burnout, vaccines and more.

AMA Update

The AMA is bringing medicine together to eliminate burnout with Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH

Nov 13, 2023

The AMA is reducing physician burnout and recognizing health systems that have achieved the standard of care in physician well-being through the AMA Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program. AMA President Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, joins to discuss the program, why the fight against burnout is at a crossroads and how medicine can come together to make burnout a thing of the past. AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger hosts.

Speaker

  • Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, president, AMA

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Unger:  Hello and welcome to the AMA Update video and podcast. Today we're talking about how the AMA is reducing physician burnout and recognizing health systems that have achieved the standard of care in physician well-being through the AMA Joy in Medicine Recognition Program. Joining me to discuss this is AMA President Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld in Milwaukee. I'm Todd Unger, AMA's chief experience officer, in Chicago. Dr. Ehrenfeld, it's great to have you back.

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Thanks, Todd. Great to talk to you today.

Unger:  Well, at the moment, we are at somewhat of a crossroads when it comes to burnout. On one hand, we've made incredible progress in the fight against it. Yet, on the other hand, burnout levels are still alarmingly high. Dr. Ehrenfeld, based on the data that you're seeing, how are physicians feeling right now?

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Well, Todd, there are some signs of improvement. But nationwide, burnout is still a significant problem for physicians across the country. It reached an all-time high in the last quarter of '21 during the pandemic. At that time, 64% of physicians were burnt out.

Last year physician burnout dropped a little bit to 53%, according to exclusive survey data obtained by the AMA. However, that improvement was largely due to relief from the pandemic. And still today, over half of physicians are burnt out.

What really concerns me is that we're also seeing a significant amount of burnout among physicians who are still in training. A new report from the AMA shows that more than two out of five residents are burnt out. All that is to say that while we've made some progress, we still have a long way to go.

Unger:  Absolutely. And we know that the roots of burnout extend far beyond health systems. Dr. Ehrenfeld, what are some of the key areas where we also need to focus our efforts?

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Well, the AMA has been working especially hard in a couple of critical areas. And we're seeing some great momentum. One is on the insurance side to fix the burden of prior authorization. Another is in Congress in state legislatures to remove or reform regulatory burdens on physicians like the MIPS program. There's also the need to remove outdated and stigmatizing language from licensing and credentialing applications.

The AMA continues to work with stakeholders in each of these areas and more. And as we've discussed before, reducing burnout is a key pillar of the AMA'S Recovery Plan for America's Physicians. Physicians can learn more about our progress and see some of the recent wins on our website at ama-assn.org/recovery.

Unger:  Dr. Ehrenfeld, when it comes to the work of health systems, we now have a clear understanding of the evidence-based best practices that they can use to combat burnout. Can you talk a little bit about what those are?

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Sure. So at the highest level, there are six distinct areas that health systems need to focus on to address burnout holistically. At the AMA, we refer to these areas as commitment, assessment, leadership, teamwork, efficiency of the practice environment and support. Most of the best practices health systems and researchers have identified fall under one of those six areas.

Now, not every organization is going to be able to make significant progress in each area right away. And that's OK. What's important is steadily improving in each. That's when we start to see organizations shift to make the biggest gains in physician well-being.

Unger:  Now, we have these best practices, which could act as a roadmap to effectively treat burnout. And yet, as you noted earlier, burnout nationwide is still high. Why is that?

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Dr. Ehrenfeld: Well, there are a couple of critical gaps that are preventing us from making as much progress as we could. First, events like the AMA co-sponsors, the International Conference on Physician Health and the American Conference on Physician Health, they've been instrumental in bringing people together to share the latest research and best practices. But synthesizing all those learnings into a tactical plan for your organization isn't always straightforward.

Second, when you look across medicine, we still operate too much in silos and from different playbooks. To make the lasting impact that we need across the industry, we must all come together around a shared standard of care and physician well-being. In fact, maybe that's a real quality measure the government ought to start measuring instead of the multitude of meaningless metrics we currently have in place.

Unger:  Well said. And speaking of that, that brings us to the AMA Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program. It's ideally positioned to address the problems that you've outlined. And the program has been growing rapidly year over year. Dr. Ehrenfeld, can you give us a brief overview of the program for those who aren't familiar with it?

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Absolutely, Todd. So as you noted, the program has really grown significantly since it first started. And we've reached somewhat of a critical mass right now. The AMA Joy in Medicine Recognition Program empowers health systems to reduce burnout by providing a universal roadmap for success and uniting the health care community.

The roadmap is rooted in the six focus areas and evidence-based practices that we talked about earlier. The program is broken down into three clear levels of recognition, bronze, silver and gold, and provides health systems with the exact steps to get from one stage to the next.

Health systems in the program have seen incredible results. They've not only quantifiably reduced physician burnout, but their efforts have also helped them attract and retain top physicians and get national recognition for their commitment to well-being.

Unger:  And that's so important. And speaking of recognition, the AMA recently acknowledged 72 health systems that participated in the program in 2023. And that's up from 28 organizations the year before. So you talked about critical mass. That is a great piece of data. These 72 health systems alone support more than 120,000 physicians. And at this rate, what impact can a program like this have on burnout across the board in the coming years?

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Well, more than double the number of health systems applied to the program this year and took important steps to improve their physicians' well-being. And those recognitions are also valid for two years, which means we actually currently have almost a hundred organizations recognized for their efforts. Our hope is that next year, even more will want to join them.

And when a health system receives this recognition, it's really telling others across medicine and patients that this is an organization that cares about the well-being of its physicians, that this is an organization that prioritizes physician well-being, that this is an organization that is committed to reducing burnout.

And I'll tell you, this pays off for those organizations. We see many that achieve other far reaching effects, including more success in recruiting and retention and even patient satisfaction. To truly make burnout a thing of the past in medicine, we need to come together and work towards a standard of care in physician well-being. The AMA Joy in Medicine Recognition Program serves as a roadmap to get to that goal.

Unger:  Dr. Ehrenfeld, I just have one final question for you. If a health system out there has heard what you've said and is compelled by that, and they want to participate in the program, what should they do?

Dr. Ehrenfeld: Want to learn more about the AMA Joy in Medicine Recognition Program? You can visit ama-assn.org/joyinmedicine. Organizations interested in participating should submit an intent to apply form to get updates on the 2024 application cycle, which opens January 12 and closes March 1. Organizations can also register for an informational webinar on January 16 or any one of the virtual meetings with AMA staff over the next few months to ask questions.

Unger:  And once again, that's ama-assn.org/joyinmedicine. And we'll put that link in the description of this episode. Dr. Ehrenfeld, that's amazing information. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your perspective. That wraps up today's episode. And we'll be back soon with another AMA Update. In the meantime, you can find all our videos and podcasts at ama-assn.org/podcasts. Thanks for joining us today. Please take care.


Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and/or do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.

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