Beating Holiday Burnout for Rest of December: Rx for Physicians

Even before the pandemic, studies showed that one in three physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time. Then came Covid. Then the Delta and Omicron variants. And now we are in the holidays season and it is creating way too many layers of stress.

But it is not too late to finish the rest of December with less stress so you and your staff can enjoy the holidays and new year. Here are our five stress-relieving tips to help:


1. Cultivate patience.


The 2021 holiday season is bound to be problematic for healthcare providers, with pandemic fears and restrictions confounding everyone’s plans. Patients and providers alike are increasingly on edge about new variants. Many may resent renewed mask mandates or travel restrictions. Uncertainty and pandemic fatigue lead to frazzled tempers. “Devastatingly, the toll of these past 18 months is increasingly revealing itself through transfers, vacancies, early retirements, and people leaving the profession,” writes Jeff Hubner, MD in Up North News. “This vicious cycle leaves those of us remaining with even higher work burdens, and patients increasingly frustrated by long waits and at risk from the complications of delayed care.

Throughout the COVID crisis, it has been healthcare professionals who risked their lives to save the lives of others, worked to the point of exhaustion, and worried about bringing the virus home to our families, but now, too, many of us need help ourselves."

Given these unavoidable strains, maybe it’s a good time to scale back expectations. Advise staff members to give patients some slack if they seem cranky. The same goes for family members – and yourself. Often, we’re the last to notice a slip in our own moods or do anything about it.


2. Follow your own advice.


You no doubt have standard recommendations for patients with seasonal affect disorder (SAD) or difficulties dealing with holidays. Apply them to yourself. Exercise even if you don’t feel like it. Go outdoors. Get enough sleep. Avoid excessive eating or drinking. Know the warning signs of clinical depression and reach out for help when you need it. If you see red flags popping up, take a day off. Offer the same to staff in the office. Yes, the rest of the team will feel even more stress while covering for you. But just knowing that time off is possible if things get too bad creates a pressure valve, and often prevents more serious meltdowns.

 

3. Avoid additional assignments.


“We are incentivized to volunteer for overtime or extra pay for holiday work,” says Jessica Louie, PharmD and host of The Burnout Doctor Podcast. “But work-life balance is a lie. Align work into your life, break free from people-pleasing and perfectionism, and thrive in life on your own terms.” While time-and-a-half or double pay may seem tempting, accepting holiday shifts puts extra stress on your family members and your psyche. It also deprives you of valuable time with your loved ones –for most people, the real reason for the season.


4. Rethink the clinic.


“Burnout is really a problem with the environment, not with people,” notes Dr. Paul DeChant, co-author of Preventing Physician Burnout. “Most clinical workplaces are poorly designed and contribute to stress. They lack features that could streamline patient care and business functions or alleviate the pressures of constant vigilance required for quality care.”

Evaluate whether burnout is pervasive in the clinic year-round. Often holiday stress is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. DeChant recommends looking for the following symptoms:
  • staff members slow to engage in performance improvement initiatives
  • difficulties filling open clinical positions
  • disruptive physician behavior
  • high staff turnover
  • physicians quitting, retiring early, or reducing clinical hours
  • suicides in recent past

“Physician distress can have dire consequences if untreated,” he writes. “Surgeons who are burned out or depressed are significantly more likely to have alcohol abuse or dependence. Physicians commit suicide at a rate much higher than the general population. And physician burnout has an adverse effect on patient care.”

In his book, he suggests adopting many of the Lean management practices that have transformed global manufacturing, as well as switching to an easy-to-use EMS and starting every day with all-team huddles.


5. Tap technology.


Having the right EMR can relieve frustration and streamline the workflow in all areas of your clinic. CheFor example, Kareo is known for its user-friendliness and robust reports. It includes e-notes, which cuts hours off every day compared with paper charts, and an integrated front and backoffice system. Kareo Telehealth features integrates as well, for a completely seamless system. Kareo's patient engagement function  offers online communications, so patients can:
  • set their own appointments
  • complete forms before arriving at the office
  • be reminded about appointments
  • ask questions of their provider
  • view lab results
  • and send prescription orders electronically, reducing time-consuming phone calls.

You can even use it to send out birthday or holiday greetings, eliminating the task of mailing cards. “The Kareo team really understands the needs of physicians,” says Dr. DeChant. Learn more about how Kareo can streamline your office – and reduce staff burnout all year long. For more information on how Kareo can help reduce time in your daily workflow, visit us at Kareo.com.

About the Author

Alesa Lightbourne is a prize-winning author, professor and former dean of an international business school. As a freelance writer, her clients have included Fortune...

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