How to tackle burnout during an enterprise-wide imaging informatics project

Robert Paul, MBA, CIIP, traveled every other week for nearly three-and-a-half years with his team to complete an enterprise imaging informatics implementation project across five Mayo Clinic locations.

In the first five months of the EHR, radiology information system (RIS) and PACS deployment effort, Paul, a radiology informatics manager at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, lost 60% of his team. He knew burnout was a serious part of that, requiring his staff be away for two weeks at a time and sometimes up to a month for certain go-live events, and discussed it during a presentation at SIIM’s annual conference.

Burnout is a mounting plague across many healthcare specialties, and in radiology, a recent Medscape survey found nearly half of radiologists polled reported feeling burned out, on par with physicians overall. And perhaps more concerning is that 67% of those respondents said they were not likely to seek help.

Over the course of the project, Paul’s team went through many personal events: three babies were born, one marriage, one divorce, a hurricane and “significant” health issues. At one point, Paul mentioned to the audience, he was receiving more than one email a minute between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

So how, amidst the many 65 hour work weeks, did he not only take care of his own well-being, but that of what ended up as a staff of 24 people?

Addressing the problem

“A big one was reminding them of the importance of their work,” he said. “To me it was patient safety, patient safety, patient safety. I would tell the team patient safety is key and if I’m not listening to you…please go above my head…do not stop anything from patient safety, and I reminded them all the time.”

Paul would review the organizational newsletter each week, updating his team on everything from open enrollment to parking changes. The team was so busy, the small things could easily be overlooked and add to stress. He even made sure that he and his team had time to stay up to date on their medical certifications, which was appreciated, Paul said.

A visible leadership team was important for recognizing his team’s achievements, Paul noted. During their first go-live, a handful of executives from Mayo Clinic Rochester came in on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m., met the whole team, introduced themselves and thanked Paul and colleagues for the job—“it was very impressive,” he remembered.

Walking outside, holding outdoor meetings and running on an indoor track at the Mayo Rochester location kept the group active. And social events such as dinners, happy hours and golf outings brought the team together.

Personalization was also a factor, whether it was one-on-one meetings, which Paul let his team run, or filling a dispenser full of the staff’s favorite candy—M&Ms, which eventually morphed into an inside joke among the team.

All in all, Paul noted, just saying "thank you" went a long way.

“They did a lot of work, incredible work.”