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NRMC’S Kirk Soileau, CEO, Speaks on Preventing Physician Burnout

Article from 6/28/21 www.lhatrustfunds.com

Physician Burnout in the Wake of COVID-19 and Beyond

In the wake of COVID-19, physician and clinical staff burnout has been a huge concern in healthcare facilities and physician practices nationwide.

The situation is no different in Louisiana, where healthcare leaders are making the effort to stay connected with providers and offering as much support as possible to prevent burnout symptoms from occurring.

“I would say it’s about communication, having an open platform of communication where your providers can voice their concerns and be able to have a pulse on them so that none of your providers or your associates are strangers,” CEO of Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Kirk Soileau says.

Pandemic Impact

At St. James Parish Hospital, COVID-19 has been a trigger for burnout, CEO Mary Ellen Pratt says. The facility experienced the pandemic in waves, culminating in the death of a staff member due to the disease. The loss spurred hospital leadership to invest in grief counseling and land a grant that allowed the facility to offer access to mental health professionals for free.

“As much as I would have loved to, we can’t make COVID go away with a snap of a finger,” Pratt says. “There are certain things I can’t control. But what I can control, to the best of my ability, is to make things as good as I can for the staff and make sure they have the support they need.”

Natchitoches Regional has also observed more burnout in clinical staff rather than physicians due to COVID-19, Soileau says. Hospital administration tackled the issue head-on by increasing leadership rounding, creating clearer processes for physicians and staff to voice concerns, and even tweaking the facility’s emergency text message system. Natchitoches Regional also implemented online wellness and screening, offered through the system’s employee assistance program. The program also offers health coaches and counselors off-site that associates can use anonymously.

Improving Physician Engagement

While COVID-19 provides the most recent clear examples of burnout, both facilities work hard to improve physician engagement and make it easier to practice within their organization. For example, St. James Parish Hospital is converting to a new information management platform that Pratt hopes will make parts of the care process, particularly, clinical documentation, easier and more automated. The new system will also allow physicians to access patient data remotely without having to rely on their physical office computer systems.

“Doctors want to take care of patients,” Pratt says. “The more we can leverage their time in that space, the more engaged we’ll keep them because their engagement, I believe, stems directly from taking care of people.”

Natchitoches Regional has also partnered with physicians to shift some of the burdens of documentation and other back-office activities to enable physicians to spend more time with patients. The creation of a clear process to voice any issues or concerns physicians may have when practicing medicine at the facility has also been very successful, Soileau says.

To do this, Natchitoches Regional created a customer concern committee to deal specifically with physician complaints, reaching resolutions and solving problems without allowing them to fall through the cracks. Soileau says the committee has garnered much physician praise and allows the leadership team to eliminate a barrier that causes frustration – and possible burnout – for physicians.

“We want to create an ease of practice and we want to make sure that [physicians] they are comfortable with the quality of care, that they feel their patients are safe being here,” Soileau says. “Because those are the two things that really unnerve physicians, those two things are what we drive for, to focus on physician burnout.”

While all of SJPH’s healthcare providers were committed to treating patients at the height of the pandemic, the facility is looking at several retirements from both clinical staff and physicians over the coming year now that COVID-19 admissions have slowed, and a vaccine is now available. The facility is currently looking at stepping up recruitment and making arrangements to fill any gaps.

“I don’t think COVID was the only reason, but it certainly put some things into perspective for people,” Pratt says. “It is a challenge, but you’ve got to plan ahead. Fortunately, these staff members have let me know what their plans are so we can do that.”

Creating Communication

Creating open channels of communication with clinical staff and physicians plays the biggest role in helping to prevent burnout and to quickly address issues if they do occur, Soileau says.

“In healthcare, we are a labor-intensive industry. With that being said, your biggest resource is your people and your providers,” Soileau says. “And so my challenge to everyone and what I think it’s allowed us to be successful here, is that we stay in front of our people so there are no surprises. And we try to help them along the way as best we can.”

Denial is not an option, Pratt says. Healthcare organizations should acknowledge that burnout amongst clinical staff and physicians is a very real issue and plan to address it in whatever way makes the most sense for each organization.

“We cannot deny that it’s [burnout] not in our organization. That’s just not true,” Pratt says. “You have to acknowledge it. Then listen to what the needs are and try to respond to them. But the first step is acknowledging that it’s there.”



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