5 AMA Resources to Promote Physician Wellbeing

Hospital Safety Insider, October 8, 2020

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By Christopher Cheney

The American Medical Association has launched five online resources to help physicians promote their wellbeing during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Research published in September 2018 indicated that nearly half of physicians nationwide were experiencing burnout symptoms. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new burdens on physicians, including high mortality among coronavirus patients, and worry over contracting the virus and infecting family members.

Physicians need support for their mental health, Marie Brown, MD, the AMA’s director of practice redesign told HealthLeaders last week.

“While it is always important to focus on physician mental health, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges and exceptional demands that strain physicians. The AMA has responded by quickly moving new resources into the field that support the well-being of physicians during a time of acute stress,” she said.

The five new online modules focus on how health systems can boost physician wellbeing during the pandemic.

1. Supporting the healthcare workforce

Unexpected crises are stressful and thrust uncertainty and increased workload on clinicians. The model identifies common stresses on healthcare workers during a crisis and offers strategies to overcome strains and build resilient organizations.

2. Appointing chief wellness officer

A chief wellness officer is responsible for strategies and programs designed to foster healthcare worker wellbeing. This model has a step-by-step approach to establishing and maintaining a chief wellness officer position.

3. Chief wellness officer roadmap

A chief wellness officer must know how to implement initiatives that bolster healthcare worker wellbeing. This model features steps to improve wellbeing and the practice environment as well as advice for avoiding pitfalls.

4. Establishing peer support

Peer support is essential for clinicians during a crisis such as the pandemic. This module describes how to recruit and train peer leaders as well as how to build a peer support program.

5. Improving patient portals

Patient portals benefit patients and physicians by boosting communication, accessibility and efficiency that can reduce office visits during the pandemic. This module provides five steps for improving patient portals.

Coping with the pandemic

There are four primary sources of stress for physicians during the pandemic, Brown told HealthLeaders.

  • Life Threat: Many physicians fear they will contaminate their families due to work exposure.
  • Inner conflict: Physicians may experience moral distress when triaging and treating patients as well as from rationing personal protective equipment. Not having the tools to effectively prevent or treat COVID-19 may make physicians feel helpless. Some physicians have been redeployed to care for COVID-19 patients in unfamiliar settings and feel less prepared to provide care.
  • Loss: Many physicians are experiencing overwhelming numbers of patients, colleagues, and family members suffering or dying. In addition, many physicians have isolated themselves to protect their families from the virus and are unable to be with their loved ones.
  • Wear and tear: The constant accumulation of demands and relentless workload can result in tremendous physical and mental fatigue if there is little, or any, time for rest and recovery. Work-related stress is exacerbated if physicians are prevented from recharging with their family and friends.

“Early intervention may preclude the stress injury from turning into a chronic stress reaction that may include burnout, depression, exiting practice, substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder, or suicide,” Brown said.

She said there are six keys to success for chief wellness officers.

  • Ensure that your organization’s leadership embraces supporting clinicians to improve patient care and lower costs
  • Define scope of the job and identify needed resources to achieve your goals
  • Identify what programs and team members already exist within the organization
  • Communicate often with leadership and physicians—provide simple channels for physicians to communicate concerns and solutions
  • Visualize what success might look like for your team and organization
  • Measure burnout regularly

Peer support is a valuable resource for physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. “Developing a peer support program trains physicians to help their colleagues while providing greater opportunity for stressed physicians to receive help during distress. Peer support has added significance when physicians face barriers to seeking professional mental health services.”

Effective patient portals are a win-win for patients and physicians, she said. “The principle driver of physician satisfaction and well-being is being able to deliver great quality care. When we use technology such as the patient portal to increase the quality of the care, we deliver for our patients—everyone benefits.”

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care? editor at HealthLeaders.

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