Giving doctors what they need to avoid burnout
Across the health care industry, there’s a growing sense that pushing doctors ever harder to achieve productivity, quality and service goals is backfiring. One consequence of this growing burden, studies show, is that more physicians are considering leaving their jobs or complaining of depression, exhaustion and detachment that can jeopardize patient care.
A survey we recently administered to over 1,000 physicians, along with performance data from Athenahealth’s network of medical and revenue cycle records, offers useful guidance. At its core is the notion that optimizing “self-perceived capability” is central to rewarding jobs.
The concept doesn’t refer to a doctor’s clinical skills; those are assumed. And capability isn’t solely a measure of job satisfaction. Instead, it refers to whether physicians feel they have what they need to do their jobs well. When they do, we reasoned, they will be more satisfied and more engaged in their work, leading to a host of additional positive outcomes.
Anything organizations can do to create environments where physicians feel more capable is likely to pay off in terms of happier, higher-performing physicians.
DEVELOP STRONG CLINICAL TEAMS.
We found that physicians have a better experience if they work in groups that develop high-performing teams rather than reward and glorify individual superstars. Doctors in our survey who agreed with the statement “Our practice values teamwork more than individual performance” were over three times more capable and five times more willing to go above and beyond in their jobs and to recommend and stay with their organizations.
FOCUS LEADERSHIP ON CULTIVATING CAPABILITY.
The research has also showed that strong leaders are much more successful in nurturing capable physicians. We asked physicians to agree or disagree with the statement “The leaders of my organization are the best people to lead us over the next five to 10 years.” Almost 80% of physicians who assessed themselves as capable gave their leadership teams the highest rating. If a doctor viewed their leadership negatively, the figure dropped below 20%.
The lesson for leadership is clear: Design your practice to maximize physician capability. Productivity, cost effectiveness and satisfaction will follow.
(Len Schlesinger is a professor at Harvard Business School. Josh Gray is vice president of research at Athenahealth.)
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