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Robust peer support could hold key to addressing physician burnout

News
Article

Kaiser Permanente program shows promise in improving feelings of well-being, building supportive departmental culture

Two doctors talking ©tiena stock-adobe.com

©tiena stock-adobe.com

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How can health care organizations reduce the alarming rates of burnout among their physicians? A new study suggests that peer support programs are a valuable tool for addressing the problem and fostering a supportive culture in medical departments.

The study analyzed the impact of the Peer Outreach Support Team (POST) a peer support program at two Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) hospitals. The program trained “peer supporters” in understanding burnout along with concepts such as the components of a peer support interaction, identifying red flags and responding to them, and how to access additional resources. A unique feature of the program was that it allowed physicians to refer other physicians to it. 

POST trained 59 peer supporters in 11 departments between June 2019 and May 2022 reaching more than 500 physicians at the two KPNC hospitals. Over that period nearly half (48.5%) of physician survey respondents in five departments had had a peer interaction, of which 306 were reported as being successful.

“Physician recipients of peer support reported improved well-being, decreased negative emotions and stigma, and perceived positive cultural changes within their departments,” the authors say. Close to 85% of survey respondents said they would recommend POST to another department, with one saying the program “has the potential to positively change the culture of medicine in general.”

According to an accompanying press release, POST has since expanded to 10 KPNC hospitals with three more intending to implement it.

“It’s important that rather than having outside clinicians provide support, we are getting peer support from our colleagues who understand the environment we work in and who experience the same challenges,” Dana Sax, MD, the study’s lead author and an emergency physician at The Permanente Medical Group said in the press release. “We hope that sharing our experience implementing the program and our findings on the study’s effectiveness will encourage similar programs to be more widely adopted.”

The study, “Implementation and effectiveness of a physician-focused peer support program” was published November 1 in PLOS ONE.

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