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HKS and the Emergency Medicine Foundation to examine how design may reduce doctor stress and burnout

HKS, a recognized leader in health care design, and the Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), announced in December a research grant focused on reducing physician burnout. The goal of the grant is to help reimagine how emergency departments are designed by fostering innovation in an environment that has remained largely unchanged for decades. The lead investigators for the research project will be Jason Matthew Fields, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and research director for the Health Design Lab at Thomas Jefferson University, and Alan Price, director of the Center for Immersive Media at the University of the Arts.

For the past several years, ACEP has placed a special emphasis on the issue of physician burnout due to the extremely stressful work environment, unique patient populations and 24/7 operations of emergency departments. These factors have been exacerbated due to Covid-19. According to a recent poll from ACEP, 72 percent of emergency physicians report experiencing greater professional burnout since the pandemic began.

“Staff burnout is a significant issue across the health care system. Design can help mitigate stressful conditions and support staff wellbeing, which is critically important,” said Jason Schroer, AIA, principal and health practice leader at HKS. “We are honored to partner with EMF to research design’s potential to ameliorate caregiver burnout.”

“EMF funded research has been defining emergency medicine practice for almost 50 years and continues to refine our practice today,” said David E. Wilcox, MD, FACEP, Chair, EMF Board of Trustees. We are pleased to collaborate with our colleagues at HKS to further enhance our understanding, improve our emergency medicine work environment and benefit our emergency department patients.”

To date, most strategies aiming to prevent physician burnout have largely focused on individual and organizational interventions. However, there is a need for greater evidence demonstrating how the physical design of the emergency department can alleviate instances of physician burnout. From numerous grant submissions, the proposal by the Health Design Lab at Thomas Jefferson University edged out the competition with a proposal that intends to provide a clearer understanding of the multiple factors creating stress while also providing tools and processes for redesigning existing emergency department spaces. The work of the project team has the potential to reduce stress for emergency physicians while creating an environment of wellness in the emergency departments they serve in, which in turn supports enhanced patient care and treatment.