Physician Wellness Committees: Guidelines and Best Practices

Posted on November 2, 2010 by VITAL WorkLife

Female Physician Leader in powerful stance_small-1While Joint Commission requirements recognizing and dealing with disruptive behaviors call for formal interventions in situations where physicians engage in dangerous or disruptive behavior, healthcare organizations across the country are forming Physician Wellness Committees tasked with helping to prevent those behaviors from happening in the first place.

Creating a culture of physician wellness is not only critical to enhancing patient safety, but will play an increasingly important role in recruiting and retaining physicians. Some of the factors currently leading to stress in the medical workplace are:

  • Increasing internal and external complexity
  • Greater pressure and accountability
  • Lack of work/life balance
  • Loss of autonomy and control
  • Loss of revenue and higher costs of practice
  • Rising number of malpractice suits and cost of insurance

An organizational commitment to create a Physician Wellness Committee typically begins with a recognition of the physician as a precious resource—but after that, there are no formal standards regarding anything from how often such committees meet, to what they do and what they are accountable for.

Education, Support, Consultation:
What Role Will Your Physician Wellness Committee Play?

Given the potential Physician Wellness Committees have to create meaningful change within healthcare organizations, it’s important to be clear about what role your committee will play.

At one organization, the committee’s charter might be educational, hosting monthly wellness seminars. Another might offer peer-to-peer coaching. Another might be geared toward addressing substance abuse or chemical dependency. Another might build a support group for physicians undergoing litigation stress or dealing with the pressures of a medical practice.

It’s rare for a Physician Wellness Committee to do formal interventions; typically, those are handled by a medical executive or outside professionals due to potential legal liability, confidentiality and mandated reporting requirements. Yet, many Physician Wellness Committees offer “informal physician consultations” where a peer may reach out to a colleague who others have noticed seems down, preoccupied or more stressed than usual.

When forming a new committee, here are a few of the questions that need answering:

  • What is the purpose of this committee?
  • What is its scope?
  • What are the desired outcomes?
  • How will outcomes be measured?
  • What are the learning and support needs?

“If you plan on doing informal consultations with peers, make sure that the committee member charged with doing it either has experience or gets training beforehand,” recommends Dr. Alan Rosenstein, medical director for VITAL WorkLife .

In addition to providing Physician Intervention Services, VITAL WorkLife provides training and consulting services to organizations in the process of creating Physician Wellness Committees.

“Most organization have their own individual needs and their own way of doing things within their culture,” notes Liz Ferron, a senior consultant for VITAL Worklife who has developed a training seminar based on the process VITAL WorkLife uses to help healthcare organizations form effective Physician Wellness Committees. “You don’t want a one-size-fits-all or cookie cutter approach, but on the other hand we can help you avoid some of the pitfalls other organizations have encountered.”

We Can Help

For more information on or help in forming an internal Physician Wellness Committee, contact us!

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