2017 IHI National Forum Field Report


At the 2017 Institute for Healthcare Improvement National Forum, I was struck by a statement that I heard early-on: patients want caregivers to care about one another. Patients know that, otherwise, their treatment is compromised.

"Personal burnout" is the key indicator of a group's performance. And it can be reversed.

"Personal burnout" is the key indicator of a group's performance. And it can be reversed.

Personal Burnout Makes It Hard to Care  

Bryan Sexton, Director of the Patient Safety Center for the Duke University Health System, pointed to data that indicate that the best predictor of patient care is the level of "burnout" among that patient's caregivers. Did you catch that? That's a Patient Safety director . . . saying that personal burnout has a greater impact on healthcare outcomes than, say, "safety climate," or "teamwork," or any of the more traditional measures. Sexton points out that 50% of physicians are are burned out. As is 30% of healthcare administrative staff. 

Joy at Work?

This year, my second trip to IHI’s annual event, provided lots of learning and smart tools for healthcare improvement. (I blogged from the plane last year, too, if you want a look back.) Beyond the patient care subjects that one might expect from a national healthcare conference, the IHI has adopted a curious and heartening focus on the personal happiness of the people who work in healthcare. Or, as they refer to it, "joy."

Care among Caregivers

I suspect it's always an inspirational event. Definitely the 2017 IHI Forum included some impressive and brave thinking, things that stoked my optimism, examples of people who had figured out useful ways to keep caring central to their jobs as healthcare providers, including:

IHI CEO Derek Feeley with Patient Advocate Tiffany Christensen and Dr. Awdish

IHI CEO Derek Feeley with Patient Advocate Tiffany Christensen and Dr. Awdish

  • A physician, Rana Awdish, who, on the last day of her residency, had a tumor rupture in her liver. This lead to a scene on the operating table. There, in her own hospital, through her stupor, she could hear someone say that she was “circling the drain.” She pulled through that event. But days later, still in the hospital, all by herself and unable to call out, she had to reach out to press the button and call a code blue on herself, as she lay in her bed, drowning in her own fluids as they redistributed into her lungs. She said she believes her wound was “a gift,” and has given her a keener eye for the system problems that demoralize caregivers and threaten patient health.
  • A heartening story of a hospital that pays for groups of caregivers to go to dinner together every couple of months so that they can talk with one another about their experiences. The dinners were described as a kind of symbiosis--commensalism--and this eating together has brought these employees to care for each other, as well as their patients, in ways that they hadn’t before.

  • Helen MacFie and Lorra Brown, who lead Lean projects at the MemorialCare network of hospitals in Southern California. They spend their work days talking about systems. AND, their concern for others was palpable. MacFie and Brown believe an improvement project is probably incomplete unless it has lead someone to cry happy tears. The pair led a session with an audience of hundreds, encouraging hospital leaders from around the country to hand the tools over to front line employees, the ones who really know how to make meaningful change where it matters.

Your Personal Burnout Assessment

Can you make your workday happier with only a smidgen of effort? It does seem that some small interventions can go a long way. Together with researcher K. Carrie Adair and others at the Duke Patient Safety Center, Bryan Sexton directs the WISER study, which is designed to assess burnout and increase emotional resilience among healthcare workers.

Online, you can access their free, HIPAA-compliant Stress-Reduction Assessment and Resilience Program. For a peek into their hypothesis about strengthening resilience, check out this seven-minute video. (WARNING: this video is pretty fun.)

What else?

This quick summary only scratches the surface of the things I learned at this year's conference. If you'd like to know more about what I learned, and about how SHARE is applying new ideas, let's talk. Drop me a line: kirk.davis@theshareunion.org. As always, thank you for reading . . .