Physician Health

How chief wellness officers can establish two-way communication

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

Amid a culture that is contributing to burnout and a loss of a sense of joy in medicine, a chief wellness officer (CWO) can help an organization systematically improve the well-being of physicians and other health professionals.

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After a CWO has assembled a team, defined a mission, developed a strategy to achieve it and established partnerships with other leaders in the organization, the CWO needs to broadcast what they are doing and have a way to get feedback from others in the organization. An AMA STEPS Forward® toolkit helps guide CWOs on how to do just that and more.

“Develop a Bidirectional Communication Strategy” is the seventh step of the “Chief Wellness Officer Road Map” toolkit that outlines a nine-step approach that CWOs can follow to implement a leadership strategy for professional well-being.

“Physicians need to know what their organizational leaders are doing for professional well-being as well as have a voice in these efforts,” the toolkit authors write.

Here is how chief wellness officers can establish two-way communication about professional well-being efforts as well as an example of how one clinic succeeded.

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CWOs and their team need to develop ways to disseminate updates on well-being efforts to physicians. Some ways chief wellness officers can communicate include:

  • Newsletters.
  • Emails.
  • Brief video report-outs.
  • Guest presentations at department meetings.

In addition to finding a way to communicate what the organization is doing to address well-being it is important to establish avenues for physicians across the health system or clinic to be able to share their feedback with the CWO and other organizational leaders.

Some ways to do this include:

  • Listening sessions.
  • Focus groups.
  • Electronic suggestion boxes (See the AMA STEPS Forward “Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff” toolkit).
  • Periodic surveys.
  • Opportunities for physicians to work on department-wide or organization-wide thematic initiatives.

Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston offers an example of how one group opened up a channel for physicians to communicate their thoughts on well-being to leadership, said Christine Sinsky, MD, vice president of professional satisfaction at the AMA, who coauthored the toolkit.

AMA member Alexa Kimball, MD, president and CEO at Harvard Medical Faculty, and her leadership team got feedback from their physicians by surveying them about burnout. With 20 projects designed to improve well-being under consideration, the survey asked physicians to rank in order what they viewed as the top 12 projects.

Dr. Kimball’s team chose their projects based on the responses and completed 11 of the 12 projects within one year. They continued to work on the last project after that time frame. Projects included reducing EHR clicks, expanding child care and family resources, and automatically populating ICD-10 billing codes into order, notes and problems lists.

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Throughout the year, Dr. Kimball and her team gave physicians progress reports on each of the well-being initiatives. A survey 18 months later showed that burnout was lower than it had been before the initiatives.

“The two-way communication—--physicians telling leadership what they needed most and leadership keeping physicians abreast about how the work on these top priorities was progressing—was essential to the success of this overall initiative,” said Dr. Sinsky.

Learn more about how to lay the groundwork at your organization with the “Establishing a Chief Wellness Officer Position” toolkit.

Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is currently addressing issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand and reduce the challenges physicians face.

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