Saving the Family Physician One Doctor at a Time through Lifestyle Medicine

Physician burnout, especially among family doctors who often labor long hours with little support, is a major problem in the United Sates, contributing to a growing nationwide shortage of practitioners.

St. Luke’s University Health Network has launched an innovative residency program to stop burn-out before it happens. The new program promotes “lifestyle medicine” NOT ONLY for patients, BUT ALSO for doctors themselves.

Introduced by Alan Remde, MD, director of research and curriculum, the program aims to improve patient care by way of addressing providers’ own health and satisfaction. Incoming family medicine residents are taught a practice-what-you-preach approach to communication, stress management, healthy eating and exercise, as well as other self-care techniques.

“With the burnout rate among physicians at about 40 percent, and the high incidence of depression and suicide among them, it’s critical to help residents develop skills to take better care of themselves throughout their careers,” says Dr. Remde, who joined SLUHN in 2018. He honed integrative medicine skills during a fellowship in 2013-2015.

Traditional physician training rarely provides in-depth content on nutrition, exercise or stress management. But in St. Luke’s family medicine program, new doctors now learn to lead by example while coaching their patients on how to change ingrained behaviors that lead to and worsen chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, COPD and cardiovascular disease.

“A large proportion of mortality and morbidity in the US population is attributable to unhealthy lifestyle decisions,” Dr. Remde says. “These can be modified by patients, but they need to learn the proper skills, like reading food labels, cooking healthy meals, practicing a mindfulness approach to life and finding ways to manage stress.”

The residents design and conduct research studies around these issues, to measure process and outcomes of these efforts, with the intent of improving outcomes for both provider and patient.

“The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but our healthcare model for chronic disease is no longer working for doctors or patients,” Dr. Remde says. “Clearly, it’s time to develop a new model that starts with the provider.”

 

About St. Luke’s

Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of more than 15,000 employees providing services at 10 hospitals and 300 outpatient sites.  With annual net revenue greater than $2 billion, the Network’s service area includes 11 counties: Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, Monroe, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey.  Dedicated to advancing medical education, St. Luke’s is the preeminent teaching hospital in central-eastern Pennsylvania.  In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke’s created the Lehigh Valley’s first and only regional medical school campus.  It also operates the nation’s longest continuously operating School of Nursing, established in 1884, and 34 fully accredited graduate medical educational programs with 263 residents and fellows.  St. Luke’s is the only Lehigh Valley-based health care system with Medicare’s five- and four-star ratings (the highest) for quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction.  St. Luke’s is both a Leapfrog Group and Healthgrades Top Hospital and a Newsweek World’s Best Hospital.  In 2019, three of IBM Watson Health’s 100 Top Hospitals were St. Luke’s hospitals.  St. Luke’s University Hospital has earned the 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation from IBM Watson Health seven times total and five years in a row. St. Luke’s has also been cited by IBM Watson Health as a 50 Top Cardiovascular Program.  Utilizing the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) system for both inpatient and outpatient services, the Network is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of the SLUHN’s information technology applications such as telehealth, online scheduling and online pricing information.  St. Luke’s is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers.