Three practical steps to improve health care worker wellbeing in general practices

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  23 May 2023  Dr Jeannie Knapp – NWMPHN GP clinical advisor   

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently published a comprehensive report detailing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care worker (HCW) wellbeing.

It contained no surprises – the pandemic has been hard for HCWs, impacting wellbeing and working conditions. Other publications, including Mustaq et all and De Kock et al, outline similar impacts. HCWs were already at a high risk of burnout, and the pandemic has accelerated this.

We’ve all heard about the usual strategies to assist ourselves and our staff, such as promoting self-care, taking time out, seeking support and supporting each other. But are there simple strategies we can implement in our practices that might have a surprisingly large impact?

Creating a supportive culture helps wellbeing. While researching for this article, I came across a study called Strategies to improve general practitioner well-being: findings from a focus group study, written by UK psychologist and academic Dr Louise Hall and colleagues, published in the Oxford Journal of Family Practice. I presume we can extrapolate this to other HCWs and team members.

Many factors affecting wellbeing are external and out of our control. However, what surprised me was the simplicity and low cost of strategies that can be implemented at practice level. Many of them are things that many practices may already do, and by creating a positive workplace culture they can influence HCW wellbeing.

Here are 3 simple strategies to consider:

1. Schedule breaks

Hall et al say: “Having the opportunity and being encouraged to leave their individual and often isolated offices, interact with their colleagues and have a short respite from work was seen as something that positively affected GPs’ well-being… Breaks served as fulfilling psychological needs by having that mental break from ‘being the doctor’, physical needs by having the chance to have a drink, some food, perhaps some fresh air, a toilet break and social needs through interacting with colleagues.”

Considerations for practices:

  • Do you have a shared space for staff breaks?
  • Do you have a non-shared space for breaks if someone needs some downtime?
  • Are staff encouraged to have regular breaks?
  • Are regular breaks for GPs scheduled in their day?
  • Is there flexibility for staff who wish to take breaks together to do so?

2. Social support

Hall at al: “Having social support within the practice, peer-to-peer and from both medics and non-medics outside of their practice was found to be useful for preventing burnout. To improve support at the practice level, buddying and mentoring systems were suggested, along with regular meetings to ‘check in’ with how team members are doing.”

Considerations for practices:

  • a buddy system with regular check-ins
  • regular social get-togethers
  • a team fitness challenge
  • a team competition, such as ‘match the baby photo to the team member’.

3. Psychological strategies
Hall et al: “Maintaining awareness of the risk of burnout was voiced as a useful strategy that some participants used. Additionally, it was mentioned that this could be implemented in practices through discussions and meetings, and externally at the training stage. It was evident that awareness was needed at the individual, practice and external levels.”

Considerations for practices:

  • Do you discuss burnout with staff?
  • Do you encourage awareness of burnout and support staff putting strategies in place to reduce burnout?
  • Do you have access to an employee assistance program for staff who wish to access it?
  • Have a dedicated wellbeing leader who checks in with staff members as well as promoting wellbeing strategies with staff.

Here are some mental health and wellbeing support services that may be appropriate for your teams:

For further information and additional services see here.