The question of how to reduce clinician burnout is being answered by some providers by appointing a chief wellness officer.
Supporters of this new role, which can be found at about a dozen health systems across the U.S., argue that the burnout issue demands attention from someone in a C-suite level position. Burnout can be found among roughly 44% of doctors nationally, according to recent estimates, and a growing body of evidence shows it can harm quality of care, patient experience scores and the bottom line through higher turnover.
“The problem is so significant and it has so many negative effects to the health system that it has to have C-suite level attention,” said Dr. Darrell Kirch, CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “There is a business case on the part of the CEO to really pay attention to the problem.”
Additionally, chief wellness officers and researchers say there is now enough evidence and insight into what causes burnout and possible solutions that providers can meaningfully tackle the issue.
“We know that there are a whole variety of local things that leaders can implement to help reduce the work stress and improve efficiency,” said Dr. Liselotte Dyrbye, a researcher of burnout and physician well-being at Mayo Clinic who co-developed the Well-Being Index, a tool marketed to healthcare organizations as a way to measure burnout among clinical staff.
But even as wellness gains a seat in the C-suite, not all CEOs or boards are convinced burnout is enough of a problem that such a position is warranted, said Greg Button, president of global healthcare services at consultancy Korn Ferry.
“The CEOs and the boards of these institutions probably could use some more education on the severity of what’s going on, not only around burnout but health and wellness overall and how important it is, and how it correlates to workforce engagement and ultimately the financial performance,” Button said, adding, “If you don’t understand the issue, it’s probably just pushed aside.”
Some CEOs will argue they have “higher demands,” particularly pressure from the board to perform well financially amid shrinking margins, he said. This likely explains why the healthcare industry hasn’t seen chief wellness officers until recently even though other sectors have had them for a while. More common solutions from providers have been to establish wellness committees or a physician leader like the chief medical officer to take on the problem. Ascension, Sutter Health and Trinity Health are among the big players taking such approaches.