Six Ways to Screw Up a Physician Burnout or Engagement Survey

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-survey-fatal-flaws-mayo-clinicThe majority of physician burnout or engagement surveys make things worse for your employed physicians.

It is a classic leadership example of good intentions gone horribly wrong.

If you fall into one or more of the six survey fails below, it is possible that your survey will make burnout worse by demonstrating just how clueless the senior leaders are about conditions in the front lines.

In this blog post, let me show you the six most common survey fails - gathered from our experience working with over 175 organizations to date. Unfortunately, many  leadership teams fall into a fail cascade with their efforts qualifying for more than one of the examples below. Before we dive in, know that surveys can be powerful adjuncts to an effective physician wellness program when used correctly. Contact us to learn how

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Surveys have become very popular lately with many physician employers, societies, associations, even websites (Medscape and the recruiters) contributing to the survey bloat.

There are big names in the survey industry with their own proprietary question sets - Press Ganey, the Advisory Board, the Physician Wellbeing Index and more. Senior executives feel compelled to join the in crowd by picking a brand name and getting started. 

It has been a while since I have talked with an employee physician who has not recently completed a survey aimed at their satisfaction, burnout or engagement. None of them remember the experience fondly. I have even heard a CMO recently use the term "Physician Enragement Survey" when describing one of the big national brands.

And surveys are not the only pathway for your burnout prevention efforts to make things worse. Here is a separate blog post on the fundamental error leadership makes with regard to any wellness program for doctors. 


Six Physician Burnout/Engagement Survey FAILS

1)  No Leadership Commitment to Wellness 

If your corporate burnout prevention strategy (your Coal Mine strategy) is going to make a difference, step one must be senior leadership commitment to the Quadruple Aim - not a survey.

Leadership commitment to physician and staff wellbeing must be step number one. 

    • You understand wellness of your providers is the #1 determinant of the quality and quantity of care they provide.

    • You understand leadership's prime directive is to take very good care of the physicians and staff, so that we can put the patients first. 

    • Once you have made that commitment and clearly communicated that to your people, once your words and actions on this topic are clearly aligned and when you are committed to a full wellness strategy -- at that point, a survey may be a suitable initial first step.

2)  Surveys instead of a wellness strategy

Surveys divert money, time and effort that could actually be devoted to physician wellness efforts. In most deployments surveys are performed instead of launching a burnout prevention program. They are a waste and a distraction from the real work at hand.

    • The bigger the name on your survey, the more it costs and the better the decision makers feel about their brand-name choice

    • With regards to the positive impact on physician health and wellbeing, the money spent on the survey is often completely wasted.

    • You can build and deploy a much more effective survey yourself with minimal time and effort and expense with a dozen common sense questions through a service like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. 

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Proven Tools <> Rapid Deployment <> Immediate Results
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3)  The survey asks stupid questions

I mean really ... what are you going to do with the answers to the question," How likely are you to recommend medicine as a career to your first born child."

All it does is make people feel bad and demonstrate just how useless this survey is.

If you are going to survey your people at least ask questions that give you information you will immediately use to make things better around here. Ideally your survey is in preparation for a project launch aimed at de-stressing their work day. 

91913907_s4)  The survey effectively communicates that leadership is clueless

When a front line physician, NP, PA or nurse receives an engagement survey on a busy practice day with 109 questions, what do you imagine is the first thing their inner voice says?

This survey fail should be the simplest one to understand.

What is leadership think we do all day around here? Then you get the "first born child" question above and you are tempted to light the survey on fire ... except it is digital and on your computer ... grrrrrrrr.

5)  Provider survey answers are never acknowledged

I have had this conversation with C-Suite leaders on more than one occassion:

Me: "Have you done any surveys on your people?"

Them: "Oh yeah. We did a burnout survey about 18 months ago."

Me: "What were the results?"

Them: "Oh, it was terrible"

Me: "Have you shared the results with your people?"

Them: "No we didn't. They were too bad. We talked about it but decided against releasing the results."

What signal has this leadership team just sent their people ... especially if they spent $50,000 on a name brand survey that immediately disappeared into a black hole?

6) Repeated surveys give a false sense of security

If you purchase a program that allows you to deploy a burnout survey to the physicians with a push of the button, you will be tempted to push that button a lot. 

If you survey your physicians for burnout frequently, they will tell you what they think you want to hear as quickly as possible so they can get back to work.

Your burnout survey results will suggest that burnout is decreasing, because that is what the doctors know you want to hear. 

Leaders will pat themselves on the back while nothing changes in the front lines of the organization.

The Survey Fail Cascade

Mix and match the fails above and you can end up in a situation like this:

Leadership decides "we have to do something". 
Buys a big name survey (109 questions) that everyone knows costs big bucks.
Sends it out without any commitment to an actual wellness strategy.
Does not like the results.
Remember the average prevalence of physicians "suffering from at least one symptom of burnout" is between 40 and 50%. No matter what survey you use, it is highly likely you will not be fond of the results.
The survey results are never shared.
Physician and staff morale dives.
The message that leadership does not care about the health and wellbeing of the people who see patients is received loud and clear. 
Your Survey Makes Things Worse (arrrgggghhhhh)




What survey FAILS have been perpetrated on you?

What ways have you seen surveys deployed that actually played a role in improving the health and wellbeing of the physicians and staff

Tags: stop physician burnout