March 17, 2022

Addressing the Burnout Challenge in Healthcare

ABOUT Healthcare is thrilled to be engaged in a partnership with the Baldrige Foundation that includes a series of informative Leader Dialogue Radio podcasts focused on addressing key issues facing healthcare executives today. The podcasts are hosted by Dr. Roger Spoelman and Dr. Charles Peck, and a recent installment, titled Top Challenges to Overcome, including insights from ABOUT CMO Darin Vercillo, MD.


The podcast quickly turned to the issue of workforce burnout, with Dr. Peck saying staffing shortages among nurses, aides, and technicians are the top challenge facing hospitals today.


“Burnout was present prior to COVID,” says Peck. “Now it’s a crisis that is leading more key healthcare personnel to abandon their roles.”


Staffing shortages aren’t the only result of burnout. The crisis is also leading to a disruption in culture according to the podcast panelists. In other words, seasoned personnel are leaving and being replaced by contract workers who aren’t as familiar with embedded policies and procedures. Cultural dynamics erode as a result, contributing to process variability and trust issues among both employees and patients.


Better Systemness Can Eliminate Waste, Ease Workforce Burden


Dr. Vercillo outlined how systemness and operating as one can help organizations address healthcare burnout. From his perspective however, the significant merger and acquisition activity that has occurred in the healthcare space over the past several years hasn’t had the anticipated impact on reducing costs and improving outcomes. The primary reason for this, according to Vercillo, is while separate systems have consolidated on paper, many are still operating independently and lack controls to operate as one system of care. Health systems need to make a more concerted effort to operate as one.


“Health systems need to overcome the technological and cultural silos within an organization and create better systemness,” says Vercillo. “This means applying technology to reduce waste and inefficiencies where applicable and enabling global visibility. It also means not allowing cultural norms to dictate how patients are cared for. For example, a health facility shouldn’t continue to send a certain type of patient to a tertiary hospital just because that’s the way it has always handled it. They should have tools in place that allow them to see the capacity in all of the facilities in their network that have the expertise to care for that patient and transfer them to the one that will result in the best treatment and outcome.”


Focus On What You Can Control


Podcast panelists also emphasized that health systems should place the most focus on things within their control. These controllable measures fall into three main categories – cultivating organizational resilience, placing organizational culture before messaging, and opening all lines of communication.


Cultivating organizational resilience means showing a commitment to provider and staff welfare and providing meaningful emotional support. Placing culture before messaging means addressing issues like bullying and workplace violence and incivility. Opening all lines of communication promotes transparency and can lead to programs and benefits that can help improve employee satisfaction. For example, one health system surveyed its employees to find out what benefit it could offer that would have the most significant impact on their job satisfaction. Surprisingly, the answer wasn’t more money or vacation time, but access to and support with childcare. It turns out many of the health system’s employees were overly stressed and concerned about finding and paying for adequate childcare, particularly during the pandemic. Addressing this issue helped to alleviate this added stressor, allowing caregivers to devote more attention to their work and patients.


Workforce burnout will continue to be a top concern health systems will continue to address going forward. While there is no magic bullet to fixing the problem, there are steps providers can take to ease the burden employees face while protecting them from harm or undue stress. Health systems can also reduce the administrative burden and enable clinicians to operate at top of their license. You can get more insights from this discussion by listening to the entire podcast here.