Blog | Friday, July 19, 2019

If they care for their employees, health care organizations should be doing more of this

At the beginning of this year, I wrote an article about how health care organizations should be doing a lot more to promote employee health and wellness. Within the last several months, my beliefs have not only been reaffirmed, but magnified. We are absolutely terrible in this area—when compared to what other companies across America are doing with their professional staff. I regularly meet people in a wide variety of other industries—consulting, finance, technology—you name it. When the subject of health care comes up, all I keep hearing about is how large companies are putting in a huge amount of effort into their employees' physical and mental health. They are giving employees yearly complete physicals, sending regular emails about wellness and stress management, financial encouragement to use apps and different health trackers, and even bonuses if they meet certain goals. As a physician who is into well-being and preventive medicine, I am always delighted when I hear these stories. But I can't help wondering—what on earth is going on with health care organizations? Isn't it a bit ironic that out of all industries, this is the one that appears to be putting the least effort into employee wellness? And that doesn't just mean the odd administrative email every now and again, as some organizations may think is enough. It means a real concerted effort.

We know that physician job dissatisfaction and burnout rates are soaring (more than 50% of all physicians burned out). A quick Google search will point you towards a ton of articles addressing this subject. Nurse morale is not far behind either. In this new world of regulatory requirements, ridiculously bloated electronic medical records that suck the joy out of medicine, and constant clashes with administrators who are heavily focused on the bottom line—it's not easy to be practicing at the frontlines of medicine. A recent viral New York Times article, which I really encourage anyone to read (click here), put it really well with a statement that whatever “excellence in patient care” there is in health care (and organizations boast about)—exists only because of front-line clinicians striving on a daily basis to go above and beyond—doing the right thing for their patients. Health care organizations therefore actually owe a focus on mental and physical wellness to their employees.

According to the CDC, approximately 70% of the United States is overweight or obese (defined as a BMI greater than 25). Shockingly, statistics suggest that for physicians, the figures are also above 50%, and for nurses it hovers around 55%. Physical and mental health are also intrinsically intertwined.

Unhealthy employees, whether due to physical or emotional health, dramatically reduce productivity and have other enormous downstream effects for any organization. That's why we're seeing so many industries take employee well-being very seriously indeed, especially during busy and stressful jobs. So if we are going to live in a world of health care corporations, mega-mergers, board rooms and CEOs making big and bold decisions, I request every CEO in the country do this: Look at what other big companies are doing across America, and make employee wellness a priority.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder at DocsDox. He blogs at his self-titled site, where this post first appeared.