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Conley Lecture Focuses on Helping Address Burnout with Wellness Initiative

John Conley, MD Lecture on Medical Ethics
2:15 – 3:15 pm
Room E450A

As the health system has evolved over the last 15 years, it has inadvertently taken the wind out of the sails of many physicians. It is estimated that more than half of physicians have become burned out as their profession changed. In response, AAO-HNS has launched an effort to reverse that trend.

Michael M. Johns III, MD

“There is a loss of professionalism and the sense of profession as a physician. Being a physician has been considered a higher calling,” said Michael M. Johns III, MD. “There has been a sense of loss of that professional identity and the sense of a higher moral obligation. We hold ourselves to higher standards as a group. We have a set of ethics to hold ourselves to.”

In his lecture, “Getting to Wellness,” Dr. Johns will explore how the practice of medicine has evolved and changed the lives of physicians and how the Academy is trying to help otolaryngologists adapt to the changes. It is a topic he began studying as a fellow-in-training 15 years ago.

There is no one reason for the change in the practice of medicine, said Dr. Johns, a professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Southern California and director of the USC Voice Center. Instead, a culmination of actions has resulted in a radical change in healthcare.

“Almost all of this has its roots in the shift of medicine to a more corporate environment,” he said. “Physicians have a sense they have become a cog in a wheel with reduced autonomy and reduced self-efficacy. A lot of external factors are being imposed upon us. It has forced us not to work at the top of our license.”

Key among the changes is the development of electronic medical records that shift the burden of documentation to physicians who often say they spend more time entering data than treating patients.

“We have to make system changes, and physicians need to be cohesive in this effort. Documentation and regulation are huge culprits. EMR has become the bane of doctors’ existence,” Dr. Johns said. “Much of our work in the EMR is a misallocation of resources because it allocates tasks to the highest paid resource in the unit/healthcare delivery process that could reside elsewhere.

“Physicians are forced to see more patients in a given time frame, and we do not have the time for individual patients. In general, physicians are in an unwell state. Wellness programs are starting to spring up.”

Those wellness programs often focus on both physical and mental growth—exercise, gratitude, attitude, mindfulness, and volunteerism. Managing work hours and taking vacations are emphasized.

Under the direction of AAO-HNS/F President Gregory W. Randolph, MD, the Academy has introduced a wellness initiative that is seen in Annual Meeting education sessions. It eventually will include a toolbox to help members, which is expected to be rolled out by early 2018, Dr. Johns said.

“The message is that we have to take this problem seriously. We can’t blow it off,” Dr. Johns said. “The physician suicide rate is higher than it is in the general population. There is depression. There needs to be a self-awareness of the problem and recognition that you have resources around you. Change can only come from within.”

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