Physician Burnout, Patient Safety, and the Critical Need for Physician Coaching

The Center for Physician Leadership has been working together with health care leaders in supporting health care providers with the overwhelming challenges they are now facing.

After Interacting with hundreds of physicians, APCs, and administrative leaders we thought we actually had an accurate understanding of just how severe the recent challenges have been, but we were wrong.

Just this week I was having a conversation with a pediatrician friend of mine who is one of the most balanced, unflappable, optimistic, and confident people I have ever met. I casually asked her how she was doing with the covid challenge. She told me that she was taking an unprecedented leave of absence using her accumulated vacation time to go off into the mountains for six weeks by herself. This surprised me. We at CPL had been focusing primarily on those directly impacted by the increasing hours of work caring for their critically ill patients, the unprecedented number of deaths, the fear of infection and its potential spread to their direct family members and the inability to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Pediatricians in their office practice taking care of children who have consistently demonstrated low infection rates and very low rates of life-threatening illness didn’t, in our naïve perception, should be coping relatively well.

I was curious about this and asked her to tell me more about the stress she was under and was shocked by the answer. She was, in fact, not seeing many covid infections, but the consequences of social isolation, family stress, and uncertainty the pandemic has created in children. In her many years of clinical practice, she seen an unprecedented uptick in the number of depressed children and suicide attempts in the pre-teen population. The situation in healthcare was much worse than even we had imagined.

The past year-and-a-half has been an incredibly challenging time for everyone. It has been particularly challenging for those working in healthcare. Delivery of healthcare prior to the pandemic was already severely strained. With the onslaught covid-19 it has begun to crumble. Patient reported outcomes and experiences are lower, patient risk is higher and provider burnout is universal.

So much for the bad news. The good news is that there is an opportunity here to be proactive in our thinking. The reality is that even should the epidemic end tomorrow its impact will be challenging for the foreseeable future. We at CPL have been actively engaged supporting healthcare providers and empowering them to build cultures of caring where they can continue their critical work of patient care, and take care of themselves, their colleagues, and their families.

In response, CPL has created a series of virtual interactive seminars followed by group and one-on-one coaching to support clinical leaders.

We are now providing live online events on resilience, self-care, and change management for colleagues, while reinforcing learning with ongoing services specifically tailored for developing a culture of support. We have demonstrated that our work has produced an increase in physician and patient satisfaction, better patient outcomes and reduction in risk for the patients. We are happy to share our experience and methodology with anyone who is interested.