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Physician Burnout Reduced with Peer Support, Study Finds

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A new Kaiser Permanente physician peer-support programme designed to reduce burnout helped improve doctors’ well-being and had a positive impact on the culture of the medical departments that took part in the programme, Kaiser Permanente researchers found.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, analysed the impact of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) Peer Outreach Support Team (POST) programme in two KPNC hospitals. POST is now active in 10 KPNC hospitals, and three more hospitals intend to launch POST programmes over the next few months. Uniquely, the POST programme allows for third-party referrals, a process that permits physicians to refer other physicians, which helps bring a culture of support into the hospital setting.

“Peer support allows the recognition of and remedy to the moral injury that physicians experience when they feel they can’t be fully themselves, adhere to their own values, or do enough for a patient due to constraints within healthcare,” said first author Molly Tolins, MD, an emergency medicine physician with The Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) and POST’s founder and regional director.

Between June 2019 and May 2022, 11 departments in two KPNC hospitals implemented the POST programme, reaching more than 500 physicians. Over those three years, 306 POST interactions took place, with each lasting a median of 60 minutes. Nearly 85% of the survey respondents said they would recommend the programme to another department. One Kaiser Permanente physician who received peer support through the programme said: “[This programme] has the potential to positively change the culture of medicine in general.”

“It’s important that rather than having outside clinicians provide support, we are getting peer support from our colleagues who understand the environment we work in and who experience the same challenges,” said senior author Dana Sax, MD, a Kaiser Permanente Division of Research adjunct investigator and TPMG emergency medicine physician who works at one of the hospitals where the programme was started.

“We hope that sharing our experience implementing the programme and our findings on the study’s effectiveness will encourage similar programmes to be more widely adopted.”

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