Helper Burnout in Today’s Healthcare System
Helper burnout is a very common problem in all healthcare services and at all levels of professional training and experience. Helpers from recovery-oriented peer counselors, state employed case managers, and licensed counselors/therapists all the way to physicians are reporting record high levels of reactive stress and compassion fatigue. Psychiatrists are worried about the possible death of their profession. Perhaps no group of helpers has more stress challenges than typical under-funded and under-staffed non-profit behavioral health care services. These are the same services that experience being swallowed up by the organic bureaucracy of state and federal busy-work as well insurance company “to-do lists.” For many, computerized systems and the electronic health record have only made matters worse. There is no end in sight; in fact pay for performance which is a good thing now simply adds one more layer of stress-inducing work pressure for helpers.
The Mayo Clinic, Wisconsin, just completed a major research study on helper stress. Although this research emphasized medical care services, it’s findings are clearly relevant to other helpers, especially their poor-funded cousins in behavioral health systems. The research combined findings from 52 high quality studies; the final analysis was that between 30-40% of professionals experience burnout. This reality had devastating effects on the healthcare system as a whole, and all people involved in it. Here are the negative outcomes on individuals and systems:
- Poor client/patient care;
- Reduced professionalism;
- Ineffective self-care;
- Increased safety risks to all parties -healthcare errors, etc.;
- More depression, anxiety, and self-medication mainly by substance use by helpers;
- More emotional exhaustion;
- Greater supervisory insensitivity – caught between the financial versus human needs of the systems;
- More employee dissatisfaction and turnover; and,
- More depersonalization – client/patients dealt with as if robots.
The key recommendations to improve this disaster were: changes in personal work habits; less workaholism; reduction of specific workplace stressors; and, changes in bottom-line realities behind the organizational stress-machine. Because so much of the stress and emotional dysregulation is caused by the workplace and not the client/patient population, it is going to be difficult to change the system. Out is all about money!
For more information refer to Yellowlees, P. M. (August 1, 2017). Interventions to Prevent and Reduce…Burnout. www.Medscape.com/viewarticle/883134…
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness