Physician fatigue and its consequences have become a major concern for the healthcare industry, leaving hospitals, medical centers and healthcare employers scrambling to discover new ways to help doctors deal with "the constant stress brought on by cost pressures and a changing system that many feel is beyond their control," as Christopher Snowbeck puts it for the Star Tribune.
Fatigue and burnout are "common in many professions," but particularly in healthcare, writes Amy Locke, MD at KevinMD.com. "It is estimated that about half of all physicians in the United States suffer from burnout with numbers rising rapidly."
The effects of physician fatigue go beyond the discomfort of the doctors who fuel our healthcare industry — as important as that is! Fatigue and burnout can also "lead physicians to lose their ability to empathize with patients and colleagues," writes Dr. Locke. "Medical errors increase. Their own health, as well as the health of the patients they care for, suffers."
A landmark case resulted in a New York grand jury finding "that long working hours of residents had contributed to the death of patient Libby Zion," as Michael A. E. Ramsay, MD wrote in his classic 2000 study on physician fatigue. Lawmakers then restricted doctors from working more than 24 consecutive hours without an eight-hour rest period, and from working more than 80 total hours per week. "The European community has placed restrictions on the number of hours a physician can work," Dr. Ramsay adds.
Even worse, physician fatigue and burnout are “intensifying,” as Modern Healthcare's Elizabeth Whitman writes, citing a Medscape Lifestyle Report 2016 that asked physicians “to rate the severity of their exhaustion.”
"'Too many bureaucratic tasks,' 'spending too many hours at work' and 'increased computerization of practice' were the top three causes;" Whitman notes; "other culprits included compassion fatigue, too many difficult patients and 'feeling like just a cog in a wheel.'"
How Locum Staffing Helps Fight Physician Fatigue
With the causes fairly well understood then, shouldn't it be a simple matter to develop a systemic approach to dealing with physician fatigue? Not necessarily.
Snowbeck presents three major Minnesota healthcare employers who have dealt with physician fatigue proactively. One suburban hospital has started sponsoring local, community-involved programs to support healthcare providers. The Hennepin County Medical Center has transformed a "former dining room for physicians into a wellness center for caregivers, complete with yoga mats and exercise space." And at the Mayo Clinic, "doctors meet over company-sponsored dinners to talk shop and swap ideas for coping with the mounting strain of the job."
Outside of the state, a Boston program that encourages regular meetings among doctors, nurses and other healthcare, while Stanford Medicine in California "rewards physicians who take on extra work for colleagues by providing extra help in their personal lives — whether it’s a meal delivery at home, housecleaning or laundry services."
These approaches meet with varying levels of success — indeed, the examples Snowbeck cites are of those who are proactively dealing with the issue. And, though there are some factors that seem to be consistent in all solutions — communication, outreach, empathy — there's also a great deal of customization in each of these solutions.
Those seeking a boilerplate, one-size-fits-all approach to combating physician fatigue may find that a full solution is a little more difficult to come by — and indeed, continues to elude most organizations. (As Whitman puts it, "no organization has arrived at a set of sustainable solutions.")
Yet no matter what size and shape your physician fatigue solution may be, chances are good that it will include locum tenens staffing and recruitment, for (at least) two good reasons:
Locum tenens staffing helps ease physician fatigue within your staff. Having a partnership with a locum tenens provider means you can easily pull in locum doctors, NPs, PAs, and other clinicians when you want to give regular staff members a much-needed sabbatical. Less happily, having locum professionals at hand also helps deal with unforeseen needs — helping you avoid the dilemma of overworking the rest of your staff when one integral team members suddenly becomes available.
Locums work helps physicians deal with their own personal stress. In an article for Physicians Weekly calls locums work a "cure for burnout."
"Do not underestimate the power of frequent vacations on your mental health," writes Val Jones, MD for KevinMD.com, explaining the benefits of enjoying gaps between locum assignments. "The frenetic pace of the hospital is much more tolerable in short doses."
"Whatever route is taken, no physician should feel immune, no physician should feel ashamed or alone, and no physician should feel that reversal isn't possible to escape the personal and professional collapse that is burnout," as the Science Daily authors put it so well.
If you represent a healthcare facility looking to explore locum tenens staffing options, we encourage you to put our team's expertise to use! Contact Staff Care today to discover how we can help, or submit a staffing request here.
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