Beating Burnout: How Doctors Can Regain Control

Leigh Page


October 12, 2016

In This Article

Changing the Way You Work

Burnout can seriously compromise both careers and patient care, and more and more physicians are seeking solutions to the effects of burnout. The answers to this problem need to go beyond simply taking a few extra vacation days or a weekly yoga class.

How can physicians significantly reduce burnout—not for a day, not for a week, but as a continuing part of their work life? One key strategy: re-engineering workflow, which involves removing doctors from tasks they don't need to do and getting those tasks performed some other way, according to Christine A. Sinsky, MD, internist at Medical Associates Clinic and Health Plans, in Dubuque, Iowa, and vice president for professional satisfaction at the American Medical Association (AMA).

Dr Sinsky is helping the AMA build its new STEPS Forward program, which provides advice on how physicians can re-engineer their practices to make their work less frenetic and more satisfying.

Dr Sinsky's insights into re-engineering physicians' workflow started with her own experiences as part of a 170-provider multispecialty practice in Dubuque. "We systematized anything we could, so that the right things happened by default," she says. "We delegated work to the most appropriate person and eliminated unnecessary work whenever possible."

She also learned what works and what doesn't when she systematically examined other practices across the country. In a 2014 study, "In Search of Joy in Practice,"[1] Dr Sinsky and several colleagues closely examined 23 "high-functioning" primary care practices.

"Medical care involves a large number of recurrent tasks: registration, rooming, ordering studies, making referrals, refilling prescriptions, informing patients of laboratory results, forms completion, etc.," the authors observed. "Adopting a systems approach to practice redesign can improve efficiency and reduce waste."

Specific Ways to Re-engineer Workflow

Streamlining workflow within the practice frees up time for physicians and also reduces the workplace chaos that directly contributes to burnout, Dr Sinsky says. "When the environment doesn't feel disorganized or chaotic, physicians and staff can focus on patients."

Here are some important ways that you can reorganize workflow to make it more effective and less burdensome for a physician.


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