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Reducing physician burnout starts with increasing advocacy

Medical Economics JournalSeptember 25, 2018 edition
Volume 95
Issue 18

Advocacy takes time-a rarity for physicians. But there are five simple ways to advocate for needed healthcare changes.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions expressed here are that of the authors and not UBM / Medical Economics.

I am an outpatient primary care internal medicine and HIV care specialist physician in Seattle, Wash. 

I love being a doctor and having the privilege of working in this profession for the past 28 years. I feel fortunate to work in a healthcare system that listens to my perspective and continues to improve the system.

This is my first of a series of columns on physician well-being, a topic that is dear to my heart and one I speak about at conferences and to various organizations.

One of my goals is to inspire others to get engaged in improving the healthcare bureaucracy, which in turn will benefit physician wellbeing. I am not going to tell you that the way to prevent burnout is to practice yoga, mindfulness, or laughter therapy-even though these are excellent stress reduction and resiliency techniques. Some of the contributors to physician/clinician burnout is having to deal layers of bureaucracy and regulations that interfere with our ability to take good care of our patients. 

Positive change must be made in all these areas. What must we do to bring about positive changes? One answer is simple: advocacy.

Physicians know how these factors impact our patients’ lives. When policies may harm patients-such as time-consuming prior authorizations-we need to speak out and get involved; we need to advocate for change.

Early in my career, I did not realize the importance of advocacy and knew nothing about how to engage in system change. I was busy taking care of my patients, continuing my medical knowledge, and teaching learners. As the systems in which we practice medicine have changed, getting engaged in advocacy has reduced my stress and distress. I find it energizing that I am speaking out for the betterment of my profession, my patients, and work environment. It is not effective to sit back and let those who have not walked (or practiced) in our shoes tell us these regulations or policies are necessary. My voice and the voices of my patients and colleagues need to reach the ears of those in a position to make better laws, policies, regulations, and work environment. That is what advocacy can do. I am confident that each of us can make change happen in our own organizations, and at the local, state, and national level. 

Since advocacy takes time, how is this possible? We all have too little time in our workplace these days. 

First, “many hands make light work”-the more of us who are involved, the less time it takes to impact change. Second, if we want better systems, regulations, and policies, we must be at the table and part of the conversation and decision making. Third, it can make a difference to reducing burnout and disengagement.

So here are five tips for effective advocacy

  • Join a medical professional society advocacy group; get educated on the issues.
  • Get on a committee at your organization that can work on system improvements.
  • Write a resolution for your state medical society to advocate on an issue that matters to you.
  • Invite your elected representatives to visit your workplace.
  • Use the “take 5” approach. Take 5 minutes to call, email, or write a letter to your elected officials on a specific topic. Remember: Keep it simple and specific.

Access to physicians and healthcare should not be a partisan issue-it is a human issue. Each person is unique and our responsibility is to care for that individual. Our advocacy will continue to change or build systems that allow us to practice with fulfillment, joy and professional satisfaction.

Carrie Horwitch MD, MPH, is an internal medicine physician practicing in Seattle, Wash. Her column represents her own opinions and not her employer. 




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