Learn how Atrius Health builds community with physician “speed networking” events.
The modern physician's community has disappeared. Gone are the days of catching up with colleagues over lunch in the physicians' dining room or conferring with others during a break between patients in the staff lounge. These spaces where physicians used to share concerns, swap stories, and support each other are hard to find in the current realities of health care.
This lack of community leaves a gap in a physician's practice. Where there was collegiality and peer support, now there are silos. Although physicians spend time interacting with medical support and administrative team members, they primarily interact with their fellow physicians through email, the electronic health record (EHR), and the occasional phone call.
Impersonal communication and a lack of connection to peers are among the many factors contributing to record levels of burnout among physicians. Recent evidence suggests that more than 50% of physicians-in-training and practicing physicians experience symptoms of burnout.1
Developing the Intervention
The goal was to promote a culture of wellness that supports physicians in 1 of 2 equally important ways:
Familiarity: When physicians refer their patients to a colleague, they want to assure the patient that they know the referred doctor and are confident in the care the patient will receive.
Connection: Having connections with other physicians encourages their well-being. They know they have colleagues to go to if they are distressed or need assistance, a peer to turn to for advice in a decision, or a peer to rely on when there is a difficult outcome of care.
While Atrius Health could not recreate the days where time was more plentiful for building relationships with colleagues, they introduced “speed networking.” This was based on the “speed dating” concept where people have a series of short conversations to get to know potential romantic matches. All physicians and advance practice clinicians (APCs) in the organization were invited to the speed networking event, as were the organization's senior clinical leadership. Over 140 clinicians traveled in small groups from table to table for 10 minutes of conversation at the event.
Primary care physicians met with colleagues representing 11 different specialties. Specialty care colleagues were anchored at each table, and many brought materials or displays about the programs they offered. Primary care clinicians traveled in groups based on their department. Groups were assigned tables to visit based on if they saw adult patients, pediatric patients, or patients of all ages.
By the close of the evening, the organizers heard loud and clear that events like this were welcome and necessary to reconnect the physician population across the practice.
“It was so great to meet people who I've only emailed in the past and to catch up with specialists who I never have time to talk with. I think our best days in primary care are days when we coordinate care across different departments, and events like this make that easier.”
—Primary care physician attendee
“I really valued meeting people face to face with whom I share patients. I recently mentioned to a patient that I had met her PCP, and she was so happy to hear it; she was comforted knowing we are all working together to give her the best possible care.”
—Palliative care specialist attendee
Through this speed-networking program, physicians found the chance to connect with colleagues they had either never met before or only knew through their correspondence in the EHR. It was also a chance for colleagues to catch up after not seeing each other for quite some time.
The first event was so well attended that it was held 2 times over the course of 1 year. Because the practice is spread out over 30 locations in Eastern Massachusetts, the next year the event was taken to the local level, holding regional events in 6 different locations. Clinicians were able to connect with colleagues who practiced both at their site or in their region. As many of the specialty care physicians provide care in multiple locations in the same area, primary physicians were able to meet the specialty care providers who provide care to their patients.
While these events were paused due to social distancing requirements during COVID, the practice hopes to bring back speed networking in 2022. In the meantime, clinicians are encouraged to meet in small groups (either in person or virtually) through the Facilitated Dinners program. In this program, which is based on a Mayo Clinic intervention, groups of clinicians are given a small stipend to have dinner, and are supplied a question about reducing burnout or professional fulfillment to discuss as a group.2 Since 2018, more than 35% of Atrius Health clinicians have participated in at least 1 dinner.
While speed networking and other networking events will not completely turn the tide on physician burnout, it is a starting point to breaking down the chaotic walls of modern medicine and building a stronger clinician community as the foundation of a high-quality care practice.