Study: Kaiser Permanente Peer Support Program Reduced Burnout

Nov. 16, 2023
Peer Outreach Support Team (POST) is now active in 10 Kaiser Permanente Northern California hospitals, and three more hospitals intend to launch POST programs over the next few months

A Kaiser Permanente physician peer support program designed to reduce burnout helped improve doctors’ well-being and had a positive impact on the culture of the medical departments that took part in the program, Kaiser Permanente researchers found.

The study, published Nov. 1 in PLOS ONE, analyzed the impact of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) Peer Outreach Support Team (POST) program in two KPNC hospitals.

 POST is now active in 10 KPNC hospitals, and three more hospitals intend to launch POST programs over the next few months. The POST program allows for third-party referrals — a process that permits physicians to refer other physicians — which helps bring a culture of support into the hospital setting.

“Peer support allows the recognition of and remedy to the moral injury that physicians experience when they feel they can’t be fully themselves, adhere to their own values, or do enough for a patient due to constraints within healthcare,” said first author Molly Tolins, M.D., in a statement. She is an emergency medicine physician with the Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) and POST’s founder and regional director.

Between June 2019 and May 2022, 11 departments in two KPNC hospitals implemented the POST program, reaching more than 500 physicians. Over those 3 years, 306 POST interactions took place, with each lasting a median of 60 minutes. Nearly 85 percent of the survey respondents said they would recommend the program to another department. One Kaiser Permanente physician who received peer support through the program said, “[This program] has the potential to positively change the culture of medicine in general…”

“It’s important that rather than having outside clinicians provide support, we are getting peer support from our colleagues who understand the environment we work in and who experience the same challenges,” said senior author Dana Sax, M.D., a Kaiser Permanente Division of Research  adjunct investigator and TPMG emergency medicine physician, in a statement. Sax works at one of the hospitals where the program was started. “We hope that sharing our experience implementing the program and our findings on the study’s effectiveness will encourage similar programs to be more widely adopted.”