Physician Health

Behind Bayhealth’s aggressive efforts to improve physician well-being

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

AMA News Wire

Behind Bayhealth’s aggressive efforts to improve physician well-being

Sep 19, 2023

For Bayhealth—a nonprofit health system with more than 4,000 employees and 400 physicians in Central and Southern Delaware—the work to reduce physician burnout isn’t new. Yet while the health system’s strong commitment to improving physician well-being stretches back to 2015, feedback surveys and AMA assessment have helped shed light on the urgent need for further changes to address the systemic drivers of doctor burnout.

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After completing the AMA Organizational Biopsy® (PDF), 53.9% of respondents at Bayhealth reported burnout, up from 47.7% in 2021 and about even with the national benchmark of 54%. On top of that, 54.5% have reported job-related stress, compared with 44% at Bayhealth in 2021 and 54.2% nationwide.

For the Organizational Biopsy, there were 178 respondents, 66.9% of which were physicians and with most coming from family medicine. The AMA benchmarking report—which is exclusive data to the AMA that is not published anywhere else—reflects 2022 trends on six key performance indicators—job satisfaction, job stress, burnout, intent to leave an organization, feeling valued by an organization and total hours spent per week on work-related activities (known as “time spend”).

The purpose of the aggregated data is to provide a national summary of organizational well-being and serve as a point of comparison for other health care organizations. The results may be limited by the health systems that chose to participate. 

“If you’re at dinner with four other physicians, two of them don’t want to go to work the next day. They will sit in their car in the parking lot thinking, ‘Do I really have to go in? I just dread going to work,’”

Thomas E. Vaughan, MD
Thomas E. Vaughan, MD

, a radiologist and the chief wellness officer at Bayhealth, recently told the AMA.

This is what physician burnout feels like, and it was all too common within Bayhealth. But the “Aha!” moment came in an unlikely way. While working on an initiative in 2015 to improve patient care, Dr. Vaughan and his team realized physician well-being played an essential role in creating a positive patient experience. With that, physician well-being quickly became a key focus area for Bayhealth, which is a member of the AMA Health System Program that provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

By 2021, Bayhealth’s well-being work was acknowledged by the AMA Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program. That bronze-level recognition is a public reflection of the challenging yet necessary work that is happening daily to support physicians at Bayhealth.

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.

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“Our team started with a group of doctors that said, ‘Let’s see what we can do!’” Dr. Vaughan recalled. “Even small things or a single initiative can make a big change.”

With a team of 15 volunteer physician leaders from various specialties across Bayhealth, Dr. Vaughan worked to create incremental changes to improve physician well-being. One of these was the “Phyxit line,” which was created to address the small nuisances that build up and weigh on physicians and their teams. Through the Phyxit line, representatives helped resolve troublesome technology issues, provided food for staff lounges and moved medical item storage to more convenient locations.

While such early improvements were relatively simple, they were meaningful and helped generate the momentum and desire for greater change at Bayhealth. And that included securing institutional support and resources.

Read this AMA Joy in Medicine spotlight to learn more about how Bayhealth works to bring joy back to the medical staff (PDF).

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To continue its well-being journey, in 2019 Bayhealth leaders turned to the Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program for a strategic road map to structure their initiatives and track successes.

The program’s well-vetted framework that includes six focus areas to boost well-being—along with personal stories from physicians—was integral to winning support from the hospital board to invest in and more clearly elevate issues around burnout.

“We included local stories of people from our medical staff and the issues they’ve been having. ... There was really no choice other than to go down this path” of addressing physician burnout, Dr. Vaughan said.

More resources were given to the Medical Staff Wellness Committee, which is comprised of 15 doctors and advanced practice clinicians across a spectrum of specialties and practice types. The committee meets monthly to discuss key issues contributing to physician burnout and guide the overall well-being strategy for the organization.

Other efforts were launched, including a confidential coaching and counseling program and more senior-administration visits with physicians. Open forums were also created to help enhance communication among Bayhealth administration and physicians, and to get medical staff more involved in the decision-making process.

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The journey to reducing burnout and improving well-being doesn’t end there, though. Bayhealth is expanding its well-being offerings and will continue to do so. For example, they are working to create an “ambassadors of wellness” initiative to train well-being leaders in various areas and enhance a system-wide peer-support program with a major effort in the next few months. The people chosen for the ambassador program will get financial support to meet monthly for educational meetings and develop initiatives to improve professional satisfaction within their specific specialties.

Additionally, guided by the AMA STEPS Forward® toolkit “Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff,” Bayhealth is working to recreate and enhance their Phyxit line initiative that aims to cut unnecessary administrative burdens and tasks for physicians.

“The culture of the organization is enhanced by the fact medical staff know there are many people who are passionately trying to do things that will help them,” Dr. Vaughan said.