National Survey Reveals Only 20 Percent of Physicians Qualify as ‘Engaged’

athenahealth reports results and insights from first Physician Engagement and Leadership Index Survey

athenahealth, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATHN), a leading provider of network-enabled services and mobile applications for healthcare providers nationwide, today published results from a survey conducted through Epocrates, the number one rated mobile medical app for physicians. Survey results, which include insight from more than 2,000 physicians, reveal new insight on physician engagement and physicians’ perception of leadership prowess across the U.S. healthcare industry.

“At a time when morale among physicians is low—recent research has shown that 50 percent of physicians would not recommend doctoring1 as a profession, and burnout mounts—46 percent of physicians reported2 being burned out last year—we thought a sentiment exploration amongst our national network of thousands of physicians could provide valuable insight into the overall health of healthcare,” said Jessica Sweeney-Platt, executive director for physician performance research at athenahealth.

Key findings of the Epocrates Survey include:

  • A significant lack of engagement among physicians, with only 20 percent of respondents meeting the criteria for engagement.
  • Leadership structure plays a critical role in engagement: 32 percent of physicians who perceive that their organizations are led by other physicians are engaged, compared to eight percent for those stating their organization isn’t physician-led.
  • Ownership also seems to play a role: physician-owned medical groups generated 32 percent engagement compared with only 17 percent and 14 percent for medical groups owned by health systems, and hospitals, respectively.

Survey results reveal three primary drivers of engagement:

  1. Satisfaction with leadership: While less than half of physicians are satisfied or very satisfied with leadership overall, 74 percent of engaged physicians reported being very satisfied with leadership. Specifically, physicians look for high-quality physician leaders who communicate, empathize and demonstrate a high level of expertise.
  2. Trust between physicians and non-physician executives: Trust in leadership, and a belief that the organization follows through on its commitments were both highly correlated with physician engagement.  According to additional athenahealth research, trust between physicians and non-physician executives erodes when there is a lack of communication. Over one-third of respondents noted communication skills are a necessary attribute of a strong leader. Physicians not only want transparency from the top down, they want a two-way feedback loop that ensures their voices at the front line are heard by those setting the organization’s strategic direction. Physicians trust leaders who clearly articulate an organization’s vision and develop a plan to support this vision, without sacrificing employee satisfaction.
  3. Intentional workplace design: When physicians feel that they have a workplace environment that enables them to focus on what they do best – deliver high-quality care to patients – they are engaged at almost four times the level of the physician sample overall. Aligning workplace design with physician workflows optimizes performance, reduces burnout and improves the quality of patient care. Additionally, creating an environment of collegiality among physicians enhances peer-to-peer relationships, improves communication with patients, strengthens the referral networks, and leads to a more engaged workforce.

“We know that across all other service industries, staff engagement is critical to driving outcomes that the organization cares most about: customer satisfaction, and the resulting profits that come from a highly loyal customer base,” noted Professor Len Schlesinger, faculty member and researcher at Harvard Business School. “This survey highlights that these same patterns are holding true for healthcare, and represents the beginning of a much needed analysis as to how healthcare organizations can intentionally design themselves to prosper through this highly uncertain, very disruptive moment in the industry’s history.”

To help meet the need for effective leadership in healthcare underscored by this and other research, athenahealth is today launching the Leadership Forum, which will consist of: research and publishing on C-Level behaviors, traits, and best practices; and live events, including teaching and learning from C-Suite executives and Harvard Business School professors at Advisory Roundtables, Specialty Forums, and, Leadership Institutes.

To learn more about the Leadership Forum and how to participate in an upcoming event visit:

Full survey results and detailed charts are available at athenaInsight, a daily news hub reporting from athenahealth’s nationwide network with comprehensive healthcare transaction data from more than 78,000 providers and 80 million de-identified patients.