The healthcare sector deals with the delivery of health services which can oftentimes lead to burnout among frontline healthcare workers. Working day in and out within a stressful environment have consequences that can be debilitating to the staff’s mental and physical health which includes loss of motivation, anxiety and fatigue.
In a study published by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, it’s been found that 43.9% (2,147 of 4,893) of the physicians who completed a survey in 2017 reported at least one symptom of burnout compared with 54.4% (3,680 of 6,767) in 2014 and 45.5% (3,310 of 7,227) in 2011.
In another study, it was concluded that professional burnout is alarmingly prevalent among US nurses with studies reporting rates of 35-45%.
The current pandemic has markedly increased this “occupational phenomenon”. Close contact with COVID19 patients, fear of contracting the virus and infecting family members and longer hours of work all contribute to high amounts of stress while at work.
It is important that doctors, nurses, and all healthcare workers get all the support and intervention that they need from their organization to avoid burnout which can cause low job satisfaction, absenteeism due to sickness and low quality in the delivery of service.
There are several ways healthcare leaders can contribute in reducing burnout among frontline healthcare workers.
1. Promote open communication
Opening the lines of communication of healthcare managers to their staff helps foster trust and collaboration. Encouraging the healthcare workers to express their concerns regarding challenges and issues as well as ideas, and being ready to provide solutions and actions would make the staff feel heard and valued. This would boost morale, which in turn, reduces stress.
In Becker’s Hospital Review, Mike Marquardt, CFO of UVA Medical Center (Charlottesville, Va.), shares a strategy for improving communication skills with colleagues and direct reports.
“Wherever there is an opportunity, I try to have in-person, one-on-one discussions with colleagues and team members. I try to be intentional with how I approach conversations so that co-workers see me as accessible and open for dialogue. For example, I try to stop by someone’s office or pick up the phone instead of responding to an email.
My goal is to make any communication a two-way communication to either solicit input or create a call for action to the intended audience. For example, instead of making my monthly financial review to the management team a simple summary, I try to finish every presentation with a couple of questions or action items for everyone in the audience to investigate and follow up on. This has initiated many insightful conversations and fostered great dialogue with front-line managers.”
2. Improve the Use of Technology
Another way to reduce burnout is the use of technology. Leveraging technology in the healthcare setting can lessen administrative workloads and make things easier for the frontline healthcare workers. It would also give them more time to spend on patient care. Such technologies are electronic health records (EHRs), telemedicine, self-service kiosks and hi-tech monitoring tools.
Utilization of these devices or software have unarguably numerous benefits but drawbacks have also been identified. Take EHRs, for example.
Electronic Health Records help with managing patient data, communicate with insurers, hospitals and patients’ referring physicians which improve access. However, many healthcare workers report that certain functions with EHRs take much of their time.
In a study published in the Annuals of Internal Medicine, the amount of time that providers spend using electronic health records (EHRs) to support the care delivery process is a concern for the U.S. healthcare system. Physicians spent an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds per patient encounter using EHRs with chart review (33%), documentation (24%) and ordering (17%) functions accounting for most of the time.
In improving the use of technology to ease burnout in frontline healthcare workers, healthcare leaders must take into account the drawbacks that go with it and to improve systems that would ultimately increase the staff’s productivity and alleviate stress.
3. Provide Mental Health Support
While healthcare workers are aware of the importance of mental health, various challenges like heavy patient loads, staff shortages and long work hours make them at high risk to mental health issues. It is essential to arrange any event, seminar, or webinar where its importance is emphasized.
Motivational programs (e.g., sports and leisure activities, gratitude events and outings arranged by the organization) as well as professional identity development programs can increase motivation and interest in caring for patients. This results to reduced burnout and improvement in well-being.
Promoting self-care and putting it into practice during work hours also help the frontline healthcare workers cope with work more. Soreo.com lists some ways self-care may be applied at work:
- Take breaks during your workday
- Recognize personal limitations; set limits with patients and colleagues
- Use relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing as needed)
- Be mindful of own thoughts and feelings; seek out the positives in difficult situations
4. Encourage interaction with colleagues
Finally, burnout among the frontline healthcare workers can be reduced by encouraging socialization among peers and colleagues.
In the 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 40% of respondents deemed relationships with co-workers as very important while 48% see it as important.
Having a workplace with great interaction among team members not only increases productivity and improves patient service, but can also be a pillar of support in times of high stress.
A healthcare leader may take a more active role in facilitating positive interactions.
- Promote company values during team meetings and events
- Focus on cultural diversity and inclusions
- Provide means for social interaction like having an area to rest or chat with colleagues during breaks
The health, safety and well-being of the frontline healthcare workers must always be given a priority – reducing burnout included, and healthcare leaders must invest in this. After all, as how Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, puts it, “No country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe.”