A working mom of four did an experiment, recently. She kept track of her time, and not just most of her time. 61% of working Americans said they did not have enough timer to do the things they wanted to do. So to understand that dynamic and see where all that time is really going, she tracked every minute of her days, in half-hour increments, for an entire year. As you can imagine, it was an illuminating exercise.
In analyzing her results, in addition to analyzing those of dozens of other people, she came to some interesting conclusions:
- Most people perceive that they work much longer hours than they actually work.
- Most people perceive that they are far busier - and have far less discretionary time than they actually have.
She calls it the "busy person's lies" -- those stories we tell ourselves about the choices we do and don't have when it comes to spending our time. And it made me think of the things doctors perceive about how we spend our time -- both overall and hour to hour in our medical practices. We feel constantly stressed, constantly too busy, constantly too overloaded to consider doing anything new or taking anything else on.
The point isn't that we're not doing a lot. Doctors remain the hardest working people I've ever met. It is emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually taxing work. Plus, doctors have less choice than most professionals do. There is still a factory mentality in medicine that tries to squeeze every spare minute and bit of energy from doctors, such that they have very little time, energy, or bandwidth.
Which, of course, leads to half of doctors being burned out, "being emotionally exhausted, feeling detached from their patients and work or suffering from a low sense of accomplishment." . And of course, the data supports what you feel -- healthcare provider burnout is just getting worse.
But just as Ms. Vanderkam's study suggests, it's possible that as doctors, just as people, we don't need more hours in the day. We need more satisfaction and contribution in the hours we have. An AMA study showed that of all the interventions for decreasing healthcare provider burnout, the two things that are actually needed to move the needle on burnout are:
- Enough one-on-one time with patients.
- A sense that you've done a good job.
You paid decades of training and hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational expenses to become a healthcare provider-- there is no point giving up now, when it comes to your own sense of contribution and satisfaction. So what is a doctor to do, once she has acknowledged that she wants more contribution, meaning, and control over the hours she spends at work?
It might might just be to make sure she has the tools she needs to do exactly that -- she just doesn't realize it yet.
As Dr. Khullar shares, we may be frustrated in part because we are not harnessing the right tools to really support ourselves in doing the kind of medicine we want to do. "We’re educated largely in a biomedical framework," he explains. "We diagnose disease with textbook knowledge and prescribe medications because those are the hammers we have." Khullar goes on to say that both we as providers and our patients would be better served by finding new tools, within the same minutes per visit, the same hours in a day, doing things like "leading interdisciplinary care teams; employing new technologies and methods of patient engagement like telemedicine; and appreciating how health systems fit together to influence an individual patient’s care — from home care and community centers to clinics and hospitals."
As Ms. Vanderkam quotes Natalie Henderson, a pediatric I.C.U. fellow at the University of Louisville’s Kosair Children’s Hospital: “Time goes, no matter what you do. I’m covetous of the time I have. I want to make sure I use it more wisely.”
Is contribution and overcoming healthcare provider burnout part of what you want your hours to add up to?
Learn how telemedicine can help you connect more, contribute more, and make the most of the minutes you spend with patients.