Robust employment contracts, income guarantees, signing bonuses, loan forgiveness: Faced with a growing shortage of providers, many hospitals and health systems are desperate to one-up each other with high-dollar physician recruitment incentives.
Usually, these incentives are aimed at the physician as a physician. But what about incentives that recognize the physician is also a person? As burnout fears increase and doctors all across the career spectrum reevaluate their work-life balance, the best incentive of all might be a physician recruitment agreement that respects personal time.
Specifically, I’m thinking of “the right to disconnect” from electronic communications during non-work hours. That’s been a legal right in France since 2017, but of course we have no such law here in America – and that just might present a competitive advantage for hospitals willing to invest in the long-term mental health of their providers.
My thinking along these lines was spurred by a compelling essay in STAT by Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu, a young psychiatrist lamenting her complete lack of work-life balance. “Efficiency,” she writes, “[has] nothing to do with meeting the basic demands of clinical care. Instead, our health care system actually depends on doctors’ professionalism and donated time.
“Instead of chasing efficiency and internalizing the angst of its impossibility, I want to achieve a sense of peace by doing good work when I’m doctoring, and disconnecting from patient care when I am not.”
There’s plenty of data to prove Jennifer’s point about doctors donating their time after hours. For instance, she cites an AMA-funded study on allocation of hours that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2017. The study concluded:
“For every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly 2 additional hours is spent on EHR and desk work within the clinic day. Outside office hours, physicians spend another 1 to 2 hours of personal time each night doing additional computer and other clerical work” [emphasis added].
We’ve written often about Primary Care Done Right, which includes allowing physician extenders to practice at the top of their license. But the situation that Jennifer describes is almost the exact opposite: When physicians are forced to practice well below their license, they waste precious personal time on tasks that could be accomplished more efficiently with proper administrative support.
The desire for greater administrative support is one of the major reasons that more and more physicians are choosing hospital employment over private practice. So, if their employer doesn’t actually provide the promised support, we can’t be surprised when physicians start reevaluating their options. And if the word gets out – as it always does – that work-life balance is an issue, should we be surprised when it becomes harder to attract new employees?
In the long run, I’m hopeful that AI and other innovations will lift some of the administrative burden that robs physicians of their personal time. But until then, this is a problem that management can solve with a little compassion and commitment. Explore a physician recruitment agreement that guarantees your employed providers have the “right to disconnect.” It just might be the ultimate trump card in your physician recruitment strategy.
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