Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Here are some things you can do to reduce health-care provider burnout

Recent stories on health-care provider burnout have highlighted how nurses and physicians are struggling with difficult workplace conditions. But that burnout is a concern for patients too, and there are things they can do about it.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

Physician and nurse burnout is a concern in the health-care system in Nova Scotia. Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says there are things patients can do to help. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Recent stories on health-care provider burnout have highlighted how nurses and physicians are struggling with difficult workplace conditions. But that burnout is a concern for patients too, and there are things they can do about it. 

The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union recently sounded the alarm on how problems with emergency care are increasing the risk of burnout for nurses.

A September survey of doctors reported many feeling at risk of burnout because of their working conditions. 

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton said by thanking providers for a job well done, patients can help reduce some of the symptoms of burnout. (Robert Short/CBC)

Many of the problems leading to burnout are systemic, Mary Jane Hampton told CBC's Information Morning. But there are nonetheless things that patients can do — and things they should look out for.

"It's absolutely a patient issue, not only because it has an impact potentially on the quality of care, but also because I think there are some practical things that patients might be able to do to help," Hampton said.

Burnout a risk to patients

Hampton said there are well-documented links between burnout and a drop in the quality of care. 

"When providers are tired, and when they're anxious, and when they're exhausted, they start not paying as much attention to detail as they should."

There are basic steps patients can take to protect themselves from this, Hampton said, including calling their provider to ask about test results when they haven't heard anything, following up on referrals when the appointments haven't been scheduled, and asking nurses about new medication before it's administered in hospital, where medication errors can happen.

"There are some protective things that we need to take into our own hands to make sure that you minimize the likelihood that mistakes can happen."

What you can do

But there are also things patients can do to reduce the risk of burnout in the first place.

Hampton said surveys suggest that despite the challenges facing the health-care system overall in Nova Scotia, the relationship between patients and providers is "incredibly strong."

"And that is a really important asset for us to manage carefully." 

Whether it's being patient while waiting for a past-due appointment at the doctor's office, or simply thanking a provider when they do a good job, Hampton said small steps can go a long way to reduce the stress of working in a challenging profession. 

"The negativity, I think, is wearing everybody down, and that adds to the sense of burnout and futility," she said. "We may not be able to change that everywhere, but we can change that with every encounter that we have with our providers."

With files from Information Morning