Peer support programs: A powerful solution to alleviate physician burnout

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Discover how the implementation of peer support initiatives, such as the successful Peer Outreach Support Team, is revolutionizing healthcare culture, reducing burnout rates, and fostering positive changes among physicians.

Peer support programs: A powerful solution to alleviate physician burnout | Image Credit: © Jadon Bester/peopleimages.com - © Jadon Bester/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com.

Peer support programs: A powerful solution to alleviate physician burnout | Image Credit: © Jadon Bester/peopleimages.com - © Jadon Bester/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com.

A version of this article initially appeared in Medical Economics.

Addressing the concerning rates of burnout among physicians within healthcare organizations can be achieved through the implementation of peer support programs, as indicated by a recent study. The research focused on the Peer Outreach Support Team (POST), a program implemented at two Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) hospitals, revealing its efficacy in creating a supportive culture within medical departments.

Takeaways

  1. The Peer Outreach Support Team (POST) study underscores the effectiveness of peer support programs in mitigating physician burnout within healthcare organizations.
  2. POST's success is attributed to training "peer supporters" in understanding burnout, recognizing warning signs, and accessing resources, fostering a culture of support within medical departments.
  3. Nearly half of physicians in surveyed departments engaged in peer interactions, with 306 reported as successful, indicating a significant level of physician participation in the program.
  4. Physicians receiving peer support reported improved well-being, reduced negative emotions and stigma, and a positive perceived cultural shift within their departments.
  5. With POST expanding to 10 Kaiser Permanente Northern California hospitals and three more planning implementation, the study's authors advocate for similar programs to be widely adopted, emphasizing the importance of peer support within the medical community.

The POST initiative involved the training of "peer supporters" to comprehend burnout and key concepts related to peer support interactions. These concepts encompassed recognizing warning signs, responding appropriately, and accessing additional resources. Notably, the program allowed physicians to refer their colleagues to it.

Between June 2019 and May 2022, POST successfully trained 59 peer supporters across 11 departments, reaching over 500 physicians in the two KPNC hospitals. Survey data collected during this period revealed that almost half (48.5%) of physicians in 5 departments had engaged in a peer interaction, with 306 of them reported as successful.

Physicians receiving peer support reported positive outcomes, including enhanced well-being, reduced negative emotions and stigma, and a perceived positive shift in departmental culture. A significant majority (85%) of survey respondents expressed their willingness to recommend POST to other departments, with one participant stating that the program "has the potential to positively change the culture of medicine in general."

An accompanying press release highlighted the expansion of POST to 10 KPNC hospitals, with 3 more hospitals intending to implement the program. The unique aspect of the program, where peer support comes from within the medical community, was underscored as a crucial factor. Dr. Dana Sax, the lead author of the study and an emergency physician at The Permanente Medical Group, emphasized the importance of peer support from colleagues who understand the challenges faced in the healthcare environment.

The study, titled "Implementation and effectiveness of a physician-focused peer support program," was published on November 1 in PLOS ONE. The authors hope that sharing their experience and findings will encourage the widespread adoption of similar programs to address physician burnout more effectively.

This article was written with the help of ChatGPT.

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