Arizona Medical Association aims to address physician burnout with peer support program

The Arizona Medical Association (ArMA), is launching a new program aimed at addressing workplace burnout by providing physicians the chance to converse with peers about stressors they are encountering.

Titled “The Virtual Doctors’ Lounge,” ArMA said the peer group will allow physicians to share concerns with someone who understands the day-to-day challenges that come with being a physician, especially of late with the concomitant emotional stress brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are providing a healthy and unique opportunity for physicians to connect outside of the workplace,” stated Ross Goldberg, MD, ArMA president. “Physicians are at high risk for burnout, and this evidence-based peer support program will give our colleagues a chance to talk with other physicians casually.”

Through this program, ArMA says that it also aims to “change the culture of medicine, connect physician participants to other physicians, and provide referrals to other resources as needed. It is the goal of this program to give a sense of relief and a healthy outlet for Arizona physicians to perform to the best of their ability.”

 

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The Virtual Doctors’ Lounge is free, confidential, and available to any physician in Arizona. The program is made possible through grant funding provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

According to a June article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, physician burnout was a problem already on the rise before the pandemic. This rise, according to the article, was kicked into overdrive by the widespread implementation of the electronic health record (EHR) and performance metrics.

The unintended consequences of radical alterations in the health care system that were supposed to make physicians more efficient and productive, and thus more satisfied, have made them profoundly alienated and disillusioned. The problem has become even more urgent with the realization that it’s costing the health care system approximately $4.6 billion a year,” wrote Drs. Pamela Hartzband and Jerome Groopman in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Why is burnout is downstream of specific changes in the health care system like EHR? Hartzband and Groopman write that medical competence has been redefined as compliance with various metrics, rather than extensive model knowledge or sound clinical judgement. Competence, they write, “has also become a matter of checking off boxes in the EHR and satisfying insurers’ demands by quickly placing a note in the record for billing purposes, even if it’s incomplete or erroneous.”

The article goes on to note that burnout leads worse outcomes for patients, because it’s associated with loss of empathy, impaired job performance, and increases in medical mistakes.