Recently, I had an opportunity to drop in on two of the foremost researchers in physician burnout, Sara Poplau and Mark Linzer of Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. We chatted about various aspects of the current burnout crisis and exciting new initiatives on the horizon. Then we spent some time contemplating a frustrating truth: leaders in health care often fail to acknowledge a reality that leaders in other industries have long embraced: treat your employees well, prioritize their wellbeing and safety, and you will reap benefits in your most important performance goals. It’s a proven strategy for success.
But try to convince board members and the C-suite of a hospital, health system, or large physician practice to free up the resources to prevent burnout and you may find yourself out of breath and red in the face. Despite the fact that burnout costs so much—more medical errors, worse patient satisfaction, less engagement in improvement initiatives the direct costs of recruiting and replacing physicians and nurses who have left—few leaders are ready to invest in prevention. We shook our heads in collective dismay.
Linzer walked to his desk and held up a framed watercolor. Painted by Linzer’s brother, Daryl Wofford, “The Scribe,” depicts three individuals in an exam room: on the right side, a physician and a patient in conversation, and on the left, a young man typing on a laptop.
“This is our goal. This is what we want.” Linzer said. “A physician, freed from typing by the scribe, who is connecting with her patient—and a patient, who is happy because she is getting what she came for—a healing connection with her care provider. Relationships drive satisfaction. And that’s true for patients and care providers.”
I asked about the scribe program at Hennepin County.