Oct. 23, 2019

To Ensure High-Quality Patient Care, the Health Care System Must Address Clinician Burnout Tied to Work and Learning Environments, Administrative Requirements

WASHINGTON - Between one-third and one-half of U.S. clinicians experience burnout and addressing the epidemic requires systemic changes by health care organizations, educational institutions, and all levels of government, says a new report from the National Academy of Medicine. Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being outlines six goals that these stakeholders should pursue to prevent and mitigate clinician burnout and foster professional well-being.

Burnout – characterized by emotional exhaustion, detachment, and a low sense of personal accomplishment - can jeopardize patient care and cause doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to leave the health care profession altogether. It is specifically job-related and not an individual mental health diagnosis, says the report. Mounting pressures in the health care system have contributed to burnout – including long hours, technologies and documentation requirements that detract from patient care, difficulties with work-home balance, and insufficient job resources, such as unsupportive organizational culture and ineffective team structures.

Personal stress management strategies are not sufficient to address the issue of clinician burnout, says the report. It is critical to address burnout not as an individual issue, but rather as a systems issue that emanates from workplace culture, health care policies and regulations, and societal expectations.

“The work system - including the physical environment, the technologies in use, and how care team members interact with each other – deeply influences clinicians’ professional well-being,” said committee co-chair Pascale Carayon, Leon and Elizabeth Janssen Professor and Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Healthcare Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “To provide the best patient care possible, health care organizations must create a work environment that fosters clinicians’ safety, health, and sense of fulfillment.”  

“For many clinicians, developing real relationships with patients is what attracted us to health care in the first place, but administrative tasks often take us away from patient care,” said Christine Cassel, senior adviser on strategy and policy and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. “With this report, we have a real opportunity to change the culture of health care delivery and help restore clinicians’ well-being and joy in medicine.”

The report outlines six goals the health care system should pursue:

“Twenty years ago, the Institute of Medicine reports To Err Is Human and Crossing the Quality Chasm revealed a crisis in patient safety and led to a focus on quality that has revolutionized the U.S. health care system. Today, the same type of transformative change is needed to support clinician well-being, which is linked inextricably to the quality of care,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau. “System-level solutions aimed at reducing or preventing burnout for clinicians of all types, across all workplaces and career stages, are essential to supporting a high-functioning health system and satisfactory patient experience. Health care leaders at all levels must take urgent action to uphold clinician well-being as a fundamental value that is essential to the fulfilment of their missions.”

The study — undertaken by the Committee on Systems Approaches to Improve Patient Care by Supporting Clinician Well-Being — was sponsored by Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Hospital Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, BJC HealthCare, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Doctors Company Foundation, Duke University Hospital, Arnold P. Gold Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Johns Hopkins Health System, Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Medical College of Wisconsin, Montefiore Medicine, the Mont Fund, the Ohio State University, State University of New York System, Tulane University, University of Florida, University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, University of Massachusetts Medical School, University of Michigan, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Utah Health, University of Virginia Medical Center, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Washington University School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, and Yale New Haven Health System.

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine; the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; and beyond. It serves alongside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as an adviser to the nation and the international community. Through its domestic and global initiatives, the NAM works to address critical issues in health, medicine, and related policy and inspire positive action across sectors. The NAM collaborates closely with its peer academies and other divisions within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Download the report at nam.edu/clinicianwellbeingstudy.

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Stephanie Miceli, Media Relations Officer

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