Blog Post

Shadow Pandemic: How Behavioral Health Integration Can Address Physician Burnout

By Tiffany Pankow, MD, VP Chief of Caregiver Wellness and Patient Experience, HonorHealth

The physicians charged with keeping us happy, healthy, and thriving are struggling now more than ever.

Have you ever heard of the “physician personality”? Whether it’s your primary care provider (PCP), a colleague, or maybe even you, you likely know a frontline hero who’s so committed to their work that they become consumed by it. Couple that with unprecedented stress from the COVID-19 pandemic and you’ve got a new crisis: the “Shadow Pandemic.”

COVID-19 has illuminated that medical providers are not immune to stress, burnout, and adverse mental health conditions. Of all physicians across multiple disciplines, 51% of family medicine physicians in primary care are among the most burnt out. Burnout symptoms such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment have become so rampant among providers that healthcare leaders must take swift action before they lose critical staff and cannot meet the needs of their patients.

What can healthcare leaders do to prevent provider burnout?linkedin-sales-solutions-46bom4lObsA-unsplash

Understanding the gravity of this ever-growing problem, HonorHealth recently named me as VP Chief of Caregiver Wellness and Patient Experience, setting strategy to ensure that both our providers and patients receive the support and services needed to thrive. As a trained family physician with over two decades of experience, I feel uniquely positioned to guide the caregiver and patient experience with particular passion for creating inclusive and collaborative environments. For our more than 13,300 team members, I am honored to change and elevate the caregiver wellness conversation by:

  • Increasing mental health access for all our team members
  • Reducing stigma
  • Limiting administrative burden
  • Enhancing collaboration
  • Encouraging whole health and well-being

From my experience, behavioral health integration is an innovative approach and comprehensive solution that provides a pathway to the framework above. At HonorHealth, in collaboration with behavioral health integration company evolvedMD, I’ve witnessed the benefits of behavioral health integration on providers at our practices and encourage other health systems to consider adopting the model. There are three key reasons why leadership teams in primary care should integrate these services.

  1. Investing in Overall Workplace Happiness and Job SatisfactionDoctor with patient

Burnout, unrealistic workloads, and overall job dissatisfaction have led one in five physicians to report thoughts of leaving their current practice within two years. We want our patients to have access to the best physicians available, but not thoughtfully investing in our staff’s happiness will only push them out. Behavioral health integration has made a tremendous impact on our workforce by stabilizing workloads, providing space to prioritize their well-being, and giving them the resources they need to deliver exceptional whole-patient care. As a physician, there is nothing more rewarding than feeling supported by my workplace and knowing I have made an impact on a patient’s well-being – I want my providers to feel that same support and sense of accomplishment, too. Integrating behavioral health has boosted our team members' satisfaction, improved the recruitment of new providers, and helped make HonorHealth a great place to work.

Takeaway: By integrating behavioral health at your practice, your providers will never lose their passion for serving your patients.

  1. Developing a Collaborative Environment Anchored in Self-Care
    happy-patient-talking-to-doctors-D9XM3PS 1

Throughout my career, I’ve always found it troubling that the frontline workers who take care of us often struggle to take care of themselves. Providers want to be there for their patients, but the ever-growing demands of the job can lead to compassion fatigue compounded by burnout. Behavioral health integration addresses the impact of compassion fatigue and burnout by creating an environment where our providers can practice self-care and prioritize themselves. Our on-site Behavioral Health Managers and Clinical Managers (both critical to integrative behavioral health) will even come in to lend support when stressful events occur in our clinics. We recently lost one of our beloved, long-time providers, and through our collaboration with on-site behavioral health providers, we were able to provide ample resources, support, and self-care guidance to grieving employees right away.

Takeaway: Leading a culture around self-care will empower your staff to prioritize themselves so they can take better care of your patients.

  1. Reducing Strain and Complexity by Adding Resources and Expertise

The lack of adequate resources to do a physician’s job – especially when addressing Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) – can amplify burnout. Nobody can do it all alone, and as a huge advocate for collaboration within and across teams, healthcare leaders must acknowledge that sharing responsibilities is crucial to reducing stress and pressure on providers. At HonorHealth, behavioral health integration puts our primary care providers, behavioral health professionals including therapists and care coordinators, and other key members into one collaborative team to lift the burden so everyone has the support they need to treat the whole patient. For example, as part of a collaborative team our physicians no longer have to address SDOH alone with the on-call support of our dedicated care coordination team. Between sharing expertise, discussing particular patients’ needs, or handling crisis situations, there is less stress on each individual and they are able to do their jobs effectively with adequate time and resources.

Takeaway: Behavioral health integration streamlines communication and collaboration to improve outcomes. When primary care and behavioral health work together, your providers will no longer feel the burden to do it all themselves.

My passion for people has never wavered during my career and I will continue to advocate for the health and wellness of both my patients and staff throughout innovative means. Behavioral health integration has been critical to elevating the wellness of my staff at HonorHealth so they can take better care of our patients. If you’re a healthcare leader with similar goals, I sincerely believe the best way to advocate for your staff is by integrating behavioral health services, too.

Learn more about the benefits of integrating
behavioral health services for providers
and integrate today.




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