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Caring for the Caregivers – 7 Steps to Taking Better Care of Our Clinicians

Almost everywhere you turn these days you’ll hear of some “disruptors” in the healthcare industry being praised for a ground-breaking device or software. While the very nature healthcare strives to incorporate the latest scientific advances, the art of care is often overlooked, and in many cases dismissed. Embracing these disruptors would not be feasible without those “stabilizers” who every day manifest the standards of care in healthcare facilities and patients’ homes. These stabilizers contend with the rapid changes science, technology, institutional hierarchies, documentation requirements, privacy requirements, all while championing the vitality of patients.  This week, in recognition of these stabilizers called nurses, and in observance of the American Nursing Association’s leadership in addressing burnout, we’ve put together some thoughts on improving balance and taking better care of caregivers.

About Clinician Burnout

Scientists have documented the negative effects that providing care can have on the caregiver. Most of these studies have focuses on the effects caregiving has on non-professional caregivers. Now there is mounting data on the negative effects that providing care can have on professional caregivers. Preventing and addressing clinician burnout is not an option – it is essential for improving patient outcomes and reduced turnover. The awareness turn also to issues of mental health and balancing workflow accordingly.

Emotional exhaustion can lead to burnout, potentially resulting in fatigue, detachment, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment at work. The health professional may no longer feel effective as a caregiver. Without relief, a burned-out clinician might develop a cynical detachment from others. In the worst-case scenario, an exhausted clinician can begin to view others – including patients – as objects.

Burnout can present a hazard to patient safety, as detachment resulting from burnout may progress to depersonalization that results in poor interactions with patients. Burned out doctors may make mistakes or deliver substandard care. Professional burnout can even cause high-quality healthcare professionals to leave medicine altogether.

Burnout is common among doctors and nurses. Estimates for the prevalence of burnout among nurses ranges drastically from 10 to 70 percent. A recent study found that burnout and life satisfaction worsened among physicians between 2011 and 2014. The researchers concluded the study by noting that more than half of all physicians in the United States suffered at least one sign of burnout.

The study also found that burnout rates vary by specialty, with emergency medicine physicians suffering the greatest amount of burnout, followed by clinicians working in urology, rehabilitation, family medicine and radiology.

Several characteristics of the healthcare environment increase the risk of burnout among caregivers, such as pressure to see a certain number of patients in a limited time, lack of control over work processes, conflicts regarding roles within the institution, and poor relationships between various groups and with leadership. The very nature of clinical work, with its emotional intensity and physical demands, puts doctors and nurses at high risk for burnout. Personal predisposing factors, such as marital problems or health issues, exacerbate exhaustion, fatigue and stress.

7 Steps to Taking Better Care of Our Clinicians

Fortunately, organizations can take steps to improve the care of the healthcare professionals who work there.

1. Help patients help themselves

Create systems that allow patients to take greater control of their own healthcare needs. Try text message reminders to refill medications or make appointments, for example. Create a blog that gives patients useful information about timely topics, such as seasonal vaccinations and avoiding the flu. 

2. Address the shifts to value-based care 

With fee-for-service, caregivers receive pay according to the number of healthcare services they deliver. This leaves caregivers under pressure to cram as many patients and tests into a workday as possible. Value-based care rewards caregivers with incentive payments for the quality of care they provide.

3. Invest in caregiver wellness programs

Consider a traditional wellness program or provide personalized wellness perks, such as childcare, pet insurance, subsidized healthy food and beverage delivery, daily yoga breaks, gym membership, on-site massages, paid volunteer time, and paid parental leave. Organize a thai chi outing, or nature hike. Consider fitness challenges and healthy gourmet cook-offs. 

4. Consider benefits that reduce the friction of everyday life

Why typically provide our nurses with a year long package that include roadside assistance, credit monitoring, identity theft protection, tech support, and much more. Why? Because the little things you can do to mitigate the stress and friction in caregivers lives results in better care, climate, and mental health. 

5. Develop a culture that openly supports and celebrates collaboration

Hang an old-fashioned corkboard on which to display the Doctor of the Month or Nurse of the Week. Ask caregivers to give presentations detailing advancements in their field or new technologies. Recognize gestures of teamwork, and those helping each other. If you have employee boards or committees, ensure to balance the concerns with constructive project.

6. Implement team-based care

Team-based care drastically enhances provider job satisfaction, according to a 2015 study, and it improves patient outcomes, increases access to care, and decreases costs. Team-based care involves all clinicians in decision-making and appreciates the expertise and input of everyone, regardless of the individual’s education or background. Foster a culture that respects all ideas, celebrates diversity, and discourages outdated notions of “work until you drop.”

7. Make it okay to talk about burnout

Just as we seek to help patients overcome the taboos of their conditions, and work together on treatment plans, caregivers must be allowed to cathartically address their burnout without reprisal. Medical professionals often think they are immune to the same stressors as other workers, and this can lead doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to deny burnout, both in themselves and in each other. Creating an environment where it is safe to talk about burnout may encourage workers to speak up and take action. Hold an in-service meeting to discuss the signs and symptoms of burnout. Encourage employees to come up with solutions that fit their work environment.

Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations can expect better patient outcomes – and better bottom lines – by taking better care of their doctors and nurses.

For additional ideas of how you can take better care of caregivers, contact Pulse Clinical Alliance for our free whitepaper on “Caring for Caregivers”. Email us at information@pulseca.com.

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Pulse Clinical Alliance, LLC

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