Finding the Right Balance to Fight Physician Burnout

Janae Sharp
DECEMBER 21, 2018
physician burnout,physician well-being,healthcare providers

The popular image of medicine is one of doctors sitting face to face with patients, addressing their needs and building relationships. Unfortunately, today’s physicians increasingly find that the actual practice of medicine is more about billing code creation, fueling physician burnout and general unhappiness in clinics across the country. When I spoke with Sachin Jain, M.D., MBA, the head of CareMore, about his call for all patients to write a thank-you note to their physicians, underlined the expectation gap — and he reminded me of the positive power of gratitude.

>> READ: Do Physicians Want Out of Healthcare?
 
“When I was in med school, I thought it was all going to be about grateful patients and lifelong relationships. I think most people imagine it that way, but it is nothing like that,” Jain said. “Medical practice is more complex, and oftentimes patients are too sick or consumed with their conditions to be appreciative of physicians. So many people who deliver care are unaware of the impact they are making — and are burnt out because of it.”
 
The disconnect between doctors’ goals and the reality of their profession, of being so consumed by paperwork that they are unable to meaningfully connect with patients or with the act of healing itself, has been described as a moral injury. Programs and systems designed to prevent “burnout” have been built to address this precise problem, to give physicians the tools they need to create lifelong relationships of healing. But many of the programs to combat burnout center around mindfulness and resilience, rather than actions for patients.
 
Jain made a simple recommendation to patients: writing a simple letter of gratitude to our physicians. This simple act serves as both a reminder of the reasons for people go into a healing profession and helps heal our physicians. Sharp Index and Healthcare Analytics News™ (HCA News) are collaborating to collect and share letters to providers and to invite each person — patients, health system administrators and startup innovators alike — to write a note of thank you to their physician. You can find previous letters here and here.
 
Sarah Sossong, an investor with Flare Capital and a digital health expert, sits on the HCA News editorial advisory board. She wrote the following letter to her providers:
 
To all my providers — past, present and future — thank you.
 
Thank you for allowing me to see you shed a tear as you hug me.
 
Thank you for telling me that I “did all the right things.”
 
Thank you for reminding me that motherhood is just one of my many roles, and sharing how you’ve balanced, successfully and not, your full clinical schedule with children, marriage and self-care.
 
Thank you for your humanity. Thank you for allowing me to see you in imperfect moments when you haven’t known what to do or what to say. Thank you for caring and letting me know that you were making the best decision you could.
 
Thank you for listening, answering and finding a path forward that makes sense for me and my life and priorities. 
 
Thank you for sharing the challenges you’ve had on your professional path…
 
Thank you for the sacrifices you have made to care for me and my family — your missed family dinners, children’s bedtimes, date nights or vacations.
 
Thank you for your partnership on the long and windy path to innovation and care transformation. Whether through video visits with patients in the home, remote second opinions for patients with serious illnesses or through remote control of a robot rounding through your intensive care unit, thank you for your excitement, curiosity, flexibility and patience.

— Sarah Sossong.

Remember to thank your provider today.

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