Athenahealth: Leadership, support can help doctors avoid burnout

Physicians who rate their capabilities highly seem to be doing fine, but too many feel they don’t have the support to deliver the best care.
By Bernie Monegain
10:47 AM
doctor burnout

A new athenahealth survey of more than 1,000 physicians who are part of the athenahealth network reveals that doctors who have confidence in their own capabilities and a staff who view themselves as capable are the most likely to avoid burnout.

Physicians who feel capable are more engaged, they go above and beyond and are more likely to continue to work, the survey found.

However, the survey revealed that less than half of physicians – 47 percent – see themselves as “capable.”

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Capability, as defined by the survey, is measured by two factors: Do physicians have the latitude to provide high-quality care, and do they have the tools and resources? On latitude, 62 percent of physicians indicated they agreed or strongly agreed they had they had what they needed. On the question of whether they had the tools and resources, 54 percent agreed or strongly agreed.

[Also: Is all that EHR documentation causing physician burnout?]

Leading the probe into the state of physicians’ perceived capability or lack of it is Jessica Sweeney-Platt, the executive director of Physician Performance Research at athenahealth.

Part of her work is to understand all the different aspects of physician network performance and to uncover what factors would allow a traditional healthcare organization to perform well.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been looking into the clinical and financial results to understand the concepts and the foundational elements that go into high-level performance,” she said.

Sweeney-Platt and her team have worked with a Harvard Business School professor with experience analyzing similar frameworks in the service industry.

“He was the one who kind of got us clued into this concept of capability,” she said. “Our initial hypothesis was that results are driven by three different things that have to be place.”

You have to have effective leadership, Sweeny-Platt said.

“Effective leadership will allow physicians and staff to describe or perceive themselves as capable of serving their patients,” Sweeny-Platt, says. “It will also allow for patients to see themselves as capable of doing the job in the healthcare system they have been assigned – either formally or informally.”

As she sees it,  these characteristics – great leadership, physicians and staff that perceive themselves as capable and also patients who see themselves as capable –  are the antidotes to burnout.

“Beyond aiming to fix the burnout problem, capability represents an aspirational goal for healthcare organizations,” Sweeney-Platt says. “It's an exciting concept. Building capability allows us to imagine a world where physicians and staff wake up energized to come to work in the morning, because they are surrounded by systems and people who enable them to focus on what they do best.”

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