AAFP Announces Well-Being Planner to Combat Physician Burnout

APRIL 26, 2018
Matt Hoffman
Clif Knight, MD
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is fighting physician burnout with 2 newly announced resources for members of the organization and clinicians in general: a well-being planner and shared resources with the National Academy of Medicine.

The AAFP’s Well-Being Planner, available to all of its members, is an addition to the Physician Health First initiative, put in place to help physicians prioritize the care of themselves in order to improve patient outcomes. The planner is “designed to help family physicians chart a path to personal wellness and professional fulfillment,” according to the organization.

"Family physicians experiencing burnout may feel overwhelmed," Clif Knight, MD, the AAFP's senior vice president for education, said in a statement to AAFP News. "The Well-being Planner is designed to make individual tactics more efficient to commit to, follow up and track."

Knight told MD Magazine that the issue of burnout in family medicine is a complicated one because often, the blame gets put on the physicians for not being attentive to their well-being. "They hear people saying that 'you need to take better care of yourself,' but it’s a system issue. In the Mayo Clinic's study, it was shown that every specialty had an increase in burnout. It is a systemic problem, not an individual physician problem. That’s the critical part to highlight," he said.

The Mayo Clinic surveys Knight referenced, given from 2011 and 2014, suggest that physician burnout is, in fact, a growing epidemic. In the 2011 report, 45.5% of respondents reported at least 1 symptom of burnout. By 2014, that number had swelled to 54.4% (P <.001). Physicians also reported decreasing satisfaction with a work-life balance over that span, from 48.5% in 2011 to 40.9% by 2014 (<.001).

Those disconcerting trends are continuing today. In July 2017, physician network MDVIP reported that 76% of physicians suffer from sleep loss due to stress, while an additional 66% said work-related stress made them feel as if they were “on a treadmill that keeps speeding up," and 41% commented that they had seriously considered quitting medicine because of stress—an unnerving detail in light of the looming physician shortage.

“Often, when people outside medicine have 1 stressful experience, that is the epicenter of their entire day,” Jessica K. Willett, MD, told MD Magazine in January. “Physicians have these experiences back-to-back-to-back, on a daily basis, and have to continually keep hitting the reset button to get back to baseline.”

Knight noted that while it is a systematic issue that needs to be addressed, the AAFP is trying to help the individuals deal with the problem on an individual basis in the meantime—a difficult task in the culture of medicine.

"Individual physicians do have a responsibility to have healthy behaviors and habits, but in the physician culture, it starts in medical school and pervades through into practice—this culture of self-sacrifice on behalf of the patients is emphasized more than self-care. It’s noble and really laudable—it’s a virtue—but if you don’t balance it with self-care, it's unsustainable," Knight told MD Magazine. "There’s this sense that if I take care of myself, I’m somehow not being the best doctor I can be. But it’s both. To provide the best care you can you have to take care of yourself."

As the physician shortage has seemingly hit family and primary care the hardest, it prompted the AAFP to develop this planner. “The Well-being Planner and Physician Health First [initiative] represent the AAFP's latest efforts in the ongoing battle against professional burnout,” it stated.

The planner will allow those utilizing it to add and remove well-being goals from a preselected list (or enter in their own); track and measure progress toward achieving those goals; and create a tailored resource list that addresses the AAFP’s 5 major areas of the family physician ecosystem—health care system, organization, practice, individual and physician culture.

The planner will also allow for doctors to suggest well-being topics to the AAFP.

In addition to the planner, more than 100 AAFP resources have been added to the National Academy of Medicine's Clinician Well-Being Knowledge Hub, a part of the 2017 Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being, of which the AAFP is a charter member. It seeks to improve the understanding of challenges to clinician well-being, as well as improve the visibility of clinician stresses and burnout, and promote evidence-based, multidisciplinary solutions that will improve patient care by first caring for the provider.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, "burnout is primarily a system issue. Workplace inefficiencies, accreditation requirements, the practice/learning environment, and other factors all contribute to burnout."

"The AAFP recognizes that burnout is the problem, the hectic and dysfunctional health care system is the cause, and that it will take a multipronged effort to achieve significant improvements resulting in higher levels of professional satisfaction," Knight said to AAFP News. He added that the AAFP has made "decreasing administrative burden a priority, so family physicians can spend more time taking care of patients."

In addition to its planner, Knight said that the AAFP recently held its first Physician Health and Well-Being conference, which had more than 450 attendees this year. It focused on ways for physicians to focus on caring for themselves.

"One of the things we did was a series of workshops around yoga, and over 120 physicians voluntarily attended a 6:30 AM session, and when I talked to them, they felt a  difference about of what they could to help—and something that they enjoyed," Knight told MD Magazine. "Yoga has just one example. What’s important is for physicians to find the thing that they find renewal in, and acknowledging that it’s OK to make that time to do it. There are things that can be done to improve physician well-being, but there isn’t just 1 thing. You have to take a more holistic approach."

Another AAFP Physician Health and Well-Being conference is planned for 2019, set to be held from June 5 to 8, 2019, at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, AZ.

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