Clinician burnout isn’t a novel issue. However, it is one that recent events, including the nation’s COVID-19 response, have thrust into the spotlight. Last year, the federal government passed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which establishes grants to hospitals and other healthcare entities for programs to improve mental and behavioral health among healthcare providers. That legislation was passed thanks in large part to the work of the Foundation that also bears the late Dr. Lorna Breen’s name.

Envision Healthcare and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation have partnered to continue and expand upon that work. HealthLeaders sat down with Stefanie Simmons. MD, FACEP, who serves as Vice President of Patient and Clinician Engagement for Envision Healthcare and as Chief Medical Officer for the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, to discuss the state of the national burnout crisis and the benefits of the partnership between Envision and the Foundation.

The Foundation’s mission is to reduce burnout of healthcare professionals and reduce clinician suicide. They also have a record of effecting real change. Envision is a national medical group composed of and led by clinicians, so it knows what’s at stake when it comes to burnout, and it has the resources to effect change on a national scale. Those resources and a willingness to leverage them make Envision an excellent partner.

From Envision’s perspective, partnering with the Foundation is a natural step in fulfilling the group’s commitment to ensuring clinicians have every resource and opportunity to thrive.

We’re partnering to save clinician and patient lives, to put it plainly. This is the second year during which Envision is offering financial support to the Foundation via the Envision Charitable Fund, and this new partnership is an evolution of that support. The partnership itself is unique among nonprofits and national medical groups, and we expect that our combined resources and expertise will help to better effect change.

It’s a great opportunity for both organizations to make a larger impact via the Foundation’s advocacy to improve working conditions locally and to increase our support for clinician well-being at the state and national levels.

Just a few weeks ago, Medscape published their 2023 Physician Burnout & Depression Report in which 53 percent of the physicians surveyed indicated they are burned out and 23 percent indicated that they were depressed.

Healthcare workers experience burnout at higher rates than the general population. We’ve all experienced the self-propagating effects of the physician shortage, in that practitioners burn out because their hospital is understaffed and then quit because they’re burned out and now the shortage is even worse. But the system doesn’t have to operate that way. That line of thinking is defeatist.

The National Academy of Medicine put out a consensus statement in 2019 labeling burnout a systems issue and outlining a systems approach to fixing it. Since then, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Surgeon General and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation have put out plans to address the issue.

Clinicians across the United States work in environments that aren’t conducive to providing quality care. They’re spread too thin, working too quickly and working too many hours, and it’s creating suboptimal conditions for their well-being, as well as the health and safety of their patients.

We know what the solutions are, and we need to be good stewards of those solutions in order for them to take root and replace the older mindset of keeping one’s head down and getting the work done. The “on to the next patient” mindset isn’t good for anybody.

The Foundation has already seen great success influencing legislative action with the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which has established grants to be awarded to hospitals, professional associations and other entities for programs that promote mental health and well-being among providers. We plan to continue being active in promoting impactful legislation in that same vein.

The licensing process is one place where changes can have a great impact.

Right now, the licensing process in most states includes having to answer questions about one’s mental health. The answers to these questions have absolutely no bearing on a provider’s fitness for practice, and the questions themselves have a massive cooling effect on practitioners’ seeking help for mental health issues. We want to refocus the questionnaires on areas that indicate fitness for practice.

The key to the solution lies in the causes of burnout. Where clinicians are forced to provide care in suboptimal environments, ones not conducive to providing high-quality care, those spaces can be elevated through proper resource optimization and maintenance of appropriate staffing levels.

Quality departments everywhere focus on operational efficiency and optimization already, right? Well, too many do so with costs and immediate outcome in mind when they should also focus on what increased efficiency means for the people involved: patients and clinicians alike. Efficiency is great because it makes care better and more accessible, but we can’t be at a point where we prioritize speed and cost of care over the well-being of the people who provide that care.

The Foundation and Envision are working together to develop new protocols through quadruple aim quality initiatives, protocols which rely on key performance indicators related to professional well-being.

We know that the system needs a healthy, reliable workforce to function, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that clinicians deserve health and happiness as much as anyone else. As clinicians, we constantly de-prioritize self-care in order to be there for our patients, but we need to remind ourselves and others that we’re human too — and that a systemic re-prioritization is long overdue.

Envision Healthcare is a leading national medical group that delivers care to more than 30 million patients each year. See how Envision supports partners across the nation by exploring our solutions.