How do we end physician burnout? Is it possible for technology, which is often cited as a major factor in physician dissatisfaction, to help? Can artificial intelligence lead to a healthcare system that values “physician intelligence” and well-being?
With America losing a doctor a day to suicide, it’s not a stretch to say that physician burnout is a heartbreaking, critical epidemic. While we work every day to improve physician scheduling and combat burnout at Lightning Bolt Solutions — optimizing 3 million physician shift schedule hours a month using AI to create balanced, fair, and safe schedules — it isn’t often that our whole company has a chance to spend a day reflecting and hearing directly from physicians across the country.
To bring even more awareness to the physician burnout crisis, Lightning Bolt has dubbed the second Tuesday in September as Burnout Buster Day. The inaugural event was held at the Lightning Bolt headquarters in South San Francisco. Our entire team, from CEO to remote employees, attended.
As a health technology company, we interact with many different physicians both in-person and online. It’s easy to become disconnected from the people we’re trying to help, especially when so much interaction happens virtually. One goal of Burnout Buster Day is to help everyone understand that burnout isn’t just a buzzword — it’s very personal.
Sixteen years ago, I started Lightning Bolt because a physician friend of mine told me about the scheduling needs of their department. As a scientist, I decided to use my training to help the people who dedicate so much of their lives to helping others. I personally use meditation — and encourage my team to use it — as a way of staying grounded. The biggest thing I noticed about the energy in the room was how it changed after the empathy exercise that kicked off the day. I asked the whole company to join me in a short meditation and then had everyone pair off for a sincere conversation about a fear in their life and how they overcame it. There was the typical kind of head-down workday buzz in the room before everything began, but this exercise really set the tone for pausing to reflect on the burnout crisis and Lightning Bolt’s mission to make an impact.
“The day was absolutely informative and powerful, as we were able to learn not only valuable and shocking statistics regarding the nature and extent of the problem of burnout in the physician community as well as all of its effects, but we were also able to hear heartbreaking personal stories from various physicians and their family members about how their lives have been impacted by this serious issue. As an employee at Lightning Bolt, I felt that this event helped to highlight the profound importance of our central mission, which is to minimize physician burnout as much as possible through automated scheduling.” Nick Steen, Senior Application Consultant
The event included talks by Dr. Hemalee Patel, Advisory Board Chair; Janae Sharp, Advisory Board Member; Kim Albertario, Director of HR; Eric Julier and Michelle Hottinger, Account Executives; and Matt McPherson, Application Consultant Manager.
Dr. Patel, Doctor of Internal Medicine and Hospitalist, Wellness Physician, and Advisory Board Chair at Lightning Bolt, shared about her personal experiences with burnout that led her to the work she’s doing today. She also shared with the team the three components that comprise burnout: emotional depletion, depersonalization and cynicism, and a sense of low personal achievement, emphasizing the importance of being able to recognize symptoms. These factors can look different from physician to physician but are tell-tale signs of burnout. Dr. Patel also shares what she calls the “Big Four” factors that lead to burnout:
- The lack of control over work
- Time pressures, especially when physicians are doing administrative work that keeps them from patient care
- Chaotic workplaces
- The internal struggle between the mission statement and personal values of what a physician is there for and what the administration wants
Janae Sharp, founder of Sharp Index and a Lightning Bolt advisory board member who lost her physician husband to suicide in 2015, talked about the survey she did on media coverage of physician suicide and burnout. “In about 2016, the narratives around physician suicide and burnout changed drastically, and every major medical journal covered burnout and suicide in terms of record. And for me, that was frustrating because the rate of burnout and the rate of suicide increased before they’re actually in the clinical setting. They are increasing in medical school, and it was interesting because so many companies used it to sell technology.”
This powerful insight drives home the importance of health technology companies staying grounded in what really matters for the physician, which is another goal we have for Burnout Buster Days. It’s not enough to provide tools that help in theory — they have to effectively help real physicians. To do this, health tech companies need a realistic picture of what physician burnout looks like when it’s happening, what contributes to it, and what will help improve both the root causes and symptoms.
The UX team led a company-wide design-thinking workshop that prompted participants to think about how to design a product based on who it’s affecting. Then, the event wrapped with me sharing Lightning Bolt’s origin story, a graph showing the impact we’ve had since then, and an open floor discussion on how Lightning Bolt can continue having an impact on reducing physician burnout.
It was truly wonderful to bring our team together for a day to connect over our mission — ending physician burnout — and celebrate how far we’ve come. Through the use of technology, design-thinking, and compassion, we can help end physician burnout by ensuring shift schedules are attuned to each physicians’ personal needs. It’s this physician-first thinking that helps keeps doctors and patients safe, happy, and healthy.
Original article appeared on LinkedIn.