Physician Health

How Atrium Health is removing obstacles to deliver great care

Jennifer Lubell , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

How Atrium Health is removing obstacles to deliver great care

Jun 20, 2023

Early indicators in 2022 pointed to a decline in physician burnout from an all-time high reported in the final quarter of 2021, with the latest AMA assessment data showing that more physician and health-professional respondents feel slightly more valued by their organizations.

Physician burnout demands urgent action

The AMA is leading the national effort to solve the growing physician burnout crisis. We're working to eliminate the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care.

While job satisfaction is showing signs of improving, respondents’ intent to leave their organization is still at high levels, according to Nancy Nankivil, director of practice transformation at the AMA. At the end of 2022, about 40% of respondents were indicating an intent to leave their organization.

“It seems we're seeing a trend of people reducing their clinical time as a tactic to reduce stress and burnout,” she said.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based Atrium Health once struggled with these metrics, achieving just the 45th percentile for clinician engagement in a Press Ganey survey. Compensation changes and clinicians getting bogged down with small tasks were affecting its engagement scores.

The nonprofit health system’s “Best Place to Care Strategy” was a game changer. Within a year, Atrium Health saw its engagement score rise to the 75th percentile. Here’s how the initiative is helping to remove obstacles to care, improve workflows and foster a culture of well-being.

Physicians often don’t excel at self-care, said Suzanna Fox, MD. 

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“We know that, and we saw that as a problem,” said Dr. Fox, Southeast service line leader for women’s health and deputy chief physician at Atrium Health. The Best Place to Care effort gave physicians and other health professionals explicit encouragement to take time off, work part time, get counseling and peer support, or do other things that could help promote their well-being.

“It took a lot of transparent communication and making sure that our clinicians felt heard,” said Dr. Fox, who was joined by Suja Mathew, MD, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Atlantic Health, which is a member of the AMA Health System Program.

The AMA Insight Network aims to help AMA Health System Program members connect with likeminded peers from across the nation to learn more about new innovative strategies that other systems are finding success with. The network has several communities, including one focused on well-being, that also gain early access to new research and pilot opportunities the AMA is developing. Learn more.

Best Place to Care has three pillars: workflow efficiency, workplace and professional support, and culture and well-being.

Workflow efficiency is focused on supporting physicians and other health professionals by decreasing work outside of working hours and by cutting the total amount of time doctors spend using the EHR. This may involve working in teams or delegating specific tasks to other trained team members. As an example, a team in a centralized location currently processes disability and Family and Medical Leave Act forms for the physicians or nonphysician clinicians to review and sign.

This year, Atrium Health aims to cut total time in the EHR by 10% and time spent on administrative work after hours or at home—dubbed “pajama time”—by 15%. Focus areas include reducing total inbox or portal message volume, helping physicians process these messages more efficiently, and optimizing e-visit related work. In the workplace and professional support arena, Atrium Health has been piloting an artificial intelligence-driven scribing service to cut the documentation burden on physicians.

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.

Atrium Health leaders sought to foster an environment of well-being during the early phase of COVID-19 through daily briefs and weekly calls with physicians and nonphysician providers, a strategy that earned a 90% approval rating in a post-pandemic survey.

A key goal this year is to expand upon developmental opportunities such as mentoring and coaching programs and leadership courses for physicians and nonphysician providers, said Dr. Fox. Physicians also have ongoing opportunities to voice concerns through an advisory council.

Atrium Health also has deployed the AMA’s Organizational Biopsy™ (PDF) to get feedback from physicians to inform its Best Place to Care Initiative.