Team-Based Care Models Are Not the Solution to Physician Burnout
All across the US, well-meaning administrators seeking solutions to physician burnout are turning to Team-Based Care (TBC) Models. Few understand that TBCs were not created for the purpose of combating physician burnout or restoring joy in medicine. Rather, they were developed in response to new payment models that incentivize gains in the overall health of the patient.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research in Quality (AHRQ), “the primary goal of [Team-Based Care] is to optimize the timely and effective use of information, skills, and resources by teams of healthcare professionals for the purpose of enhancing the quality and safety of patient care”. While admirable and important, the primary intended beneficiary of TBC Models is the patient, not the physician.
Team-Based Care Misses the Mark
The “team” in Team-Based Care refers to the primary care provider in addition to a host of adjacent healthcare professionals, such as care coordinators, triage nurses, pharmacists, and behavioral health professionals. For patients with complex health needs, coordination among these various providers is critical to good outcomes. However, when it comes to the mental well-being of the primary care provider, the TBC exacerbates the problem by adding more collaboration tasks and communication requirements to an already overwhelming workload.
A host of evidence points to excessive administrative burden and EHR data entry tasks as the primary drivers of physician burnout. Providers report that they spend much of each visit typing on the keyboard rather than looking the patient in the eye. Most cannot keep up with their charts during clinic hours, but instead try to catch up in the evening, depriving them of rest and a personal life.
Any cure for physician burnout must involve relieving the provider of a meaningful portion of this administrative burden, allowing them to focus on the patient and on the actual practice of medicine for which they were trained. Such assistance must come inside the exam room, where the history is collected, the exam is documented, and the charts are updated. With its focus on an outside the exam room team, TBC is barking up the wrong tree.
Scribes Fall Short in Team-Based Care Models
Many systems have turned to scribes as a mechanism to take the keyboard out of the hands of the providers, freeing them up in the exam room. While this approach clearly yields some benefits, it doesn’t fundamentally change the equation for the providers that still perform virtually the entire visit themselves. Schedule delays and long hours remain a problem, as the scribe is little more than a “human app” attached to the EHR, which still must be directed at all times by the provider.
Team Care Medicine Cures the Illness
In order to truly change the game for providers, they must be freed to focus exclusively on the parts of the patient exam that require someone with their level of training. Everything else must be delegated to qualified team members.
The Team Care Medicine (TCM) Model is built around this commonsense insight. In the TCM Model, the clinical assistants work ahead of and independent of the physicians. For instance, the clinical assistants gather all of the patient’s preliminary data, including chief complaint data, before the physician enters the exam room. They then present it to the physician verbally, in front of the patient, similar to how a resident presents a patient to their attending physician. The clinical assistants manage the EHR, including the capture of physical exam findings and recording of the diagnosis and treatment plan, thus freeing the physician to focus solely on the patient. The physician can then move on to the next patient, leaving the clinical assistant to provide patient education and close the visit.
The TCM Model enables the provider to spend less time on each patient, and thus see more patients per day. In order to keep the provider fully occupied at this higher level of efficiency, most practices hire one additional MA per provider. The cost of this additional team member is easily covered by the 20-40% increase in provider productivity, and by improved provider satisfaction and retention as they re-engage personally with their patients during the exam and no longer take charts home in the evening.
A Purely Logical Solution
The principal drivers of physician burnout are found inside the exam room, so any solution must also transform the process and responsibilities inside the exam room. While there are admirable goals and benefits to a Team-Based Care Model, healthcare leaders seeking a solution to physician burnout would do well to consider the commonsense and empirically validated approach: the TCM Model.