Championing Clinician Wellness  

With our current environment of increased uncertainty due to COVID-19, today’s healthcare organizations must fulfill their duty to take care of their providers so they, in turn, can take care of the patients at the heart of the healthcare system. A comprehensive, systems approach to addressing clinician well-being may be the key for healthcare organizations to achieve real, positive change that reverberates throughout their clinician populations and improves patient care and outcomes.

As an emergency medicine physician, Stefanie Simmons, MD, vice president of Patient and Clinician Experience at Envision Physician Services and an ACHE Member, knows from first- hand experience and through her studies the stressors associated with providing care in today’s healthcare system. The clinical environment changes rapidly, from heightened administrative responsibilities to new clinical challenges—as seen with COVID-19—and clinicians’ ability to maintain their personal and professional well-being is paramount for their personal health and their ability to care for patients.

“Keeping clinicians safe and healthy is critical to treating all patients and ensuring clinicians’ long-term ability to deliver patient care in the communities they serve,” Simmons says.

In the practice of medicine, clinicians are consistently exposed to trauma and stressors on the job. While they have training and experience managing difficult situations, they are still human and are not devoid of emotion or immune to stress.

With Simmons leading the way, Envision, a national medical group, put in place several wellness initiatives to support the health and well-being of more than 27,000 clinicians who are on the front lines of patient care.

Wellness Champions Program

Among the many initiatives established is the Wellness Champions Program, which provides clinician peer-to-peer support. The program provides an opportunity for clinicians to connect with colleagues who understand the many demands of practicing in today’s healthcare system and want to promote the personal and professional growth of their peers.

Wellness Champions Program

Wellness Champions receive four hours of mental health training so they are more adept at identifying, supporting and referring colleagues who may be going through a difficult time. They then receive four additional hours on how to execute the wellness program, which encompasses smaller programs tailored to different topics. Following the training, Wellness Champions choose a specific subprogram to support at their worksite and implement it. The goal is to have one Wellness Champion at each of Envision’s sites.

“We didn’t just want a top-down, impersonal program; we really wanted to involve clinicians’ peers,” Simmons says.

One way the Wellness Champions have done this is through a specific communications subprogram that engages a team of clinical and non-clinical experts who work together to develop solutions that remove barriers to patient care.

“Every day our clinicians go to work in our complex medical system, they are climbing up a mountain,” Simmons says. “Now imagine you have a pebble in your shoe, and you’re trying to climb that mountain—it makes it 10 times harder than it needs to be.” In the program, Wellness Champions solicit feedback from their clinician colleagues via a Pain Points Survey about any obstacles. Wellness Champions then analyze the survey results and collaborate with leaders across Envision on solutions.

Practicing What They Preach

The Wellness Champions Program is a natural extension of one of the medical group’s core values: to create an environment of engagement in which clinicians are valued and feel passion and joy for what they do. “This program is practicing what we preach,” says Bonnie O’Meara, vice president, Talent Management, Envision Physician Services. “We want clinicians to know we have their backs.”

Simmons and O’Meara believe a “systems approach” to addressing clinician wellness is essential for success. The idea aligns with a 2019 report by the National Academy of Medicine, Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being, which calls upon healthcare leaders to emphasize training and clinician support to improve professional well-being for the benefit and overall health of clinicians, patients and communities around the nation. (Recommendations from the report are available at nam.edu.)

Practicing What They Preach

Working collaboratively across departments, and by leveraging resources they have within their own systems, healthcare organizations can set the stage to improve clinician wellness.

“It’s one of the hardest professions on the planet—to be all in with their minds and their hearts, with all of the other pressures that are swirling around them,” O’Meara says. “As a society, we owe it to clinicians to look out for them.”

The Wellness Champions Program’s support extends beyond its 27,000 Envision colleagues, as many are sharing the benefits of the program with their hospital partner colleagues. Training for the first 300 identified Wellness Champions was underway. Then, COVID-19 hit.

COVID-19 Initiatives

Regardless of their specialty, COVID-19 has disrupted clinicians’ normal practices. As the public health crisis evolved, Envision rapidly adjusted and expanded its wellness efforts, providing resources and a structured approach to support all employees—both clinicians and non-clinical team members—to help them navigate the disruption caused by the coronavirus. These efforts include:

  • Daily wellness coaching and stress management support for clinicians and support team members that focus on community support and conclude with a five-minute guided meditation.
  • Peer crisis support training designed to train clinicians, clinical leaders and clinician supporters on crisis resources, peer support and signs a colleague may be struggling.
  • Counseling and follow-up sessions for clinicians who have been deployed to or work in COVID-19 hot spots to help them debrief and prepare for reintegration back home.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, Simmons says Envision will continue to support clinicians, care for patients and work to mitigate the spread of the virus.

For more information, please contact Stefanie Simmons, MD, vice president, Patient and Clinician Experience, Envision Physician Services, at stefanie.simmons@envisionhealth.com.

Reprinted from Healthcare Executive, July/August 2020. ache.org