Physician Health

From pharmacy to IT, Ochsner Health uses teamwork to beat burnout

Marc Zarefsky , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

From pharmacy to IT, Ochsner Health uses teamwork to beat burnout

Dec 21, 2023

Ochsner Health was recently recognized by the AMA Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program for the third time in five years. The program is designed to spark and engage organizations interested, committed or already engaged in improving physician satisfaction and reducing burnout.

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Nigel Girgrah, MD, PhD, chief wellness officer at Ochsner Health, said that while all three honors were appreciated, this year’s accolades carried more weight because of the evolution of how Ochsner Health prioritizes burnout prevention across the organization.

Ochsner Health is a member of the AMA Health System Program, which provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

“When you see other large business units at Ochsner—like pharmacy, like IT—rolling out major initiatives to improve practice efficiency and decrease inbox work, that’s cultural alignment,” Dr. Girgrah said. “When you start witnessing boardroom discussions around workforce well-being, well-being featured on department meeting agendas, an openness with our executives to talk about mental health struggles, that’s culture change.

“Witnessing the improvements in an overall culture of well-being has been fantastic,” Dr. Girgrah said during a recent episode of “AMA Update.”

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.

Following Mardi Gras in 2020, Ochsner Health also quickly became one of the epicenters for COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, Ochsner’s well-being efforts were focused on practice efficiency, promoting teamwork and leadership development. That early rush of patients—and the ongoing drain of caring for COVID-19 patients over the following months and years—made it clear that Ochsner Health had to reprioritize how it supported its employees.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, so it really forced us to be more balanced in our portfolio of offerings,” Dr. Girgrah said. “We had to certainly start to focus on crisis support, getting down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, resilience offerings for individuals and teams, and thinking about how we support the mental health needs of our workforce.”

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Dr. Girgrah and his team in the Ochsner Health Office of Professional Well-Being set out to reimagine what traditional employee assistance meant. For example, prior to the pandemic, the office’s scope was limited to physicians and nonphysician providers. The pandemic helped illustrate the role each employee played within the organization, including nurses and medical assistants, and how one person often supported someone else in a different role.

“The pandemic illustrated to us that you can’t think of one segment of the overall health care delivery ecosystem in isolation,” he said. “We had to broaden our focus to embrace all 38,000 employees.”

The AMA Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program provided a road map that he and Ochsner Health followed as they embarked on implementing programs, policies and workflow efficiencies that supported well-being within the organization. That—combined with networking and mentorship opportunities to learn from AMA leaders or other organizations implementing similar initiatives—were essential in bringing about change. 

Dr. Girgrah also said the AMA’s Organizational Biopsy® was pivotal to understanding the needs of Ochsner’s physicians and other employees, and how change could affect them and the patients they serve.

Ochsner Health will continue to address those needs, he said, looking to customize solutions that suit varied care settings.

“The drivers of burnout in primary care in one of our community facilities is going to be different than what’s driving burnout in surgery at our flagship hospitals,” he said.

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