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5 Tips for Banishing Burnout from Your Medical Practice

The daily demands of managing a modern medical practice can take its toll on you and your office staff. As your team strives to deliver exceptional patient care and maintain efficient operations, they may become susceptible to a common malady known as burnout.

Defined as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress, burnout runs rampant in the medical professions. Nearly 40 percent of physicians reported feeling at least one symptom of burnout in a 2013 physician lifestyle survey conducted by Medscape, a medical news Web site.

And physicians aren't the only ones at risk, according to Audrey Christie McLaughlin, founder of PhysiciansPracticeExpert.com, a consulting practice in Dallas, TX. "Office managers are pulled in every direction," she says. "They have to answer to billing staff, clinical staff, providers, practice owners and patients — all with different agendas and complaints. It is a tough balancing act — even for the best leaders — and over time can lead to major burnout."

Excessive stress also extends to administrative professionals, who may be challenged with everything from keeping supplies stocked to adapting to a new electronic medical records system and ICD–10 coding or allaying patient fears and confusion about changes to the healthcare system.

Here are five practical tips for reducing the risk of burnout in your medical practice.

1. Focus on Yourself First.

Before you can effectively help your staff steer clear of burnout, you must be diligent about managing the stress in your own life.

"I liken it to what you hear from the airlines: you've got to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs," says Jude Bijou, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, CA. "There are so many pressures on a small business owner or manager. You feel like you have to do everything yourself and you're moving at a frantic pace. It's easy to lose sight of your original goal and not take care of yourself."

Because work–life imbalance is at the core of workplace burnout, Bijou advocates actively pursuing activities and relationships outside of work. "You've got to start making more conscious choices to restore that balance, whether it's taking time to exercise, visit a botanical garden or take a three–day weekend with the family," she says.

2. Seek Support from Others.

As you assess your lifestyle, it's important to ask for perspective and guidance from others who have your best interests in mind.

"We need some support and accountability as we're trying to make changes," Bijou says. "It may come from someone down the hall, a spouse or a professional counselor."

She says small business owners often need to learn how to delegate tasks, relax their self–imposed deadlines and start saying no to new projects.

3. Develop Organized & Efficient Work Processes.

An organized work environment fosters staff productivity and efficiency, according to Connie Woods, office manager of the Steppler Dental practice in St. Louis, MO.

"The real key to success in staying organized is your own ability to focus and prioritize," she says. "Always put things away promptly and properly. This keeps you ready and able to complete all your daily tasks and duties."

4. Improve Your Office's Dynamics.

Creating a calm, comfortable workplace helps reduce stress and empower staff.

"By improving your room dynamics, you will eliminate distractions and dramatically improve staff focus and performance," says Pat Heydlauff, a leadership and workforce consultant based in West Palm Beach, FL. She suggests painting the walls of staff areas a soothing color and hanging uplifting artwork that you purchase or get on loan from a local artist or gallery. "This creates a connection with the community while providing a pleasant atmosphere for your staff." She also recommends investing in ergonomic chairs, functional office desks and effective lighting solutions.

5. Plan Staff Activities.

It's essential to encourage staff to unwind and enjoy each other's company outside of the work environment.

"We have team lunches, birthday celebrations and contests," Woods says. "Our team also attends many continuing education seminars and outings both in and out of town. These activities provide good–quality, fun times for all team members while we're away from the office."

By focusing on these principles, you can prevent the ravages of burnout from entering your medical practice.

Mike Plotnick is a writer, publicist and social media convert who helps businesses elevate their stories. Based in St. Louis, Mike has overseen PR and communications programs for a diverse range of organizations. He enjoys fitness, chocolate and the St. Louis Cardinals. Follow Mike on Google+.

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