When my co-author and I interviewed Christina Maslach, PhD, social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, for our book, I was struck by her observation that of the six domains she and her colleagues had identified as drivers of professional burnout, one seemed to be the most potent. It was community. She told us that workers who feel like their team mates or peers “have their back” are less likely to experience burnout, whereas workers in a toxic, competitive environment are at significantly higher risk. Interesting, but how do we build work environments that embody community? I recently learned about an innovative program to do just that.
Sunit Mistry, MD, a pulmonologist and assistant area medical director at Kaiser Permanente South Bay in Southern California, a 500-physician medical center, was inspired to launch a collegiality initiative after he personally experienced the downstream effects of an ineffective connection between physician colleagues. Weekends that a certain rather unhelpful colleague was on call, Mistry would arrive on Monday to find an onslaught of new cases. Referring physicians had delayed calling for a consult (and their patients’ care was delayed) because he or she didn’t want to tangle with that particular physician. Mistry was told, “I will never consult that doctor again…they always yell at me.” Hence he began searching for ways to bring collegiality back.
In a previous post I mentioned Leading Change in Healthcare: Transforming Organizations Using Complexity, Positive Psychology, and Relationship-centered Care, as an interesting take on creating positive organizations. I had an opportunity to speak with one of the book’s editors, Anthony L. Suchman, MD, MA. In this post I share a condensed version of our conversation. Many thanks to Dr. Suchman for his time.
Q: How did you become interested in organizational transformation?
A: During my training, I was attracted to general internal medicine in part because it involves developing ongoing relationships with patients. After residency at University of Rochester, which is especially strong in patient interviewing, I completed a fellowship in Behavioral and Psychosocial Medicine. I continued at the University as a faculty member and became interested in the impact of organizational environments and culture on the quality of care and health professions education. Later I helped to launch a physician hospital organization and began applying the principles of relationship-centered care to administrative processes.
Q: I’ve heard of relationship-centered care. How does this approach fit with leadership?
A: Rather than approaching an organization a like machine, as traditional management theory does, relationship-centered administration approaches the health care organization like a conversation. It’s a gigantic conversation between patients, clinicians, staff, payers, regulators, and others. Thinking of organizations like conversations changes how we approach transforming organizations.
Relationship-centered care focuses on the relationship between clinician and patient, with the idea that the relationship is an entity worth considering in addition to considering the individuals involved—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We apply this same idea to leadership. Relationship-centered administration is a way of leading that focuses on relationships and partnering. Its goal is creating a workplace that enables the full engagement of staff and supports creativity in their work.
My guest post appeared on January 23, 2019 in Patient Safety Beat, a blog of the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety.
Health care organizations are moving to address clinician burnout with a real sense of urgency. It is now commonly accepted that burnout is widespread among health care professionals and has serious repercussions for patient safety and the quality of care. A report released last week by several major Massachusetts health care organizations labeled the situation “a public health crisis” and warned about the adverse impact “on the health and well-being of the American public.”
And though there is currently little evidence about how to effectively tackle the problem, the experience of hospitals and physician practices with various initiatives – and the lessons learned – provide a roadmap for beginning to address a crisis that is having a profound effect on the health care system.
While the term “burnout” is often used informally to indicate fatigue or boredom, it has been defined by psychologists as including three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and inefficacy, or a low sense of personal accomplishment in one’s work.
The definition may be relatively clear, but there is little agreement about how to identify individual clinicians with burnout. The most commonly used survey tool was developed for research into causal factors, not for the diagnosis of burnout in individuals and the term burnout is often loosely used to include other associated but distinct conditions, such as depression, professional dissatisfaction, moral distress, and substance misuse. As Steven Adelman, M.D., Director of Physician Health Services in Massachusetts, notes, “Several different diagnoses have been conflated into the term ‘burnout.’ The word is often used as a catchall.”