Community

Navigating Loneliness in the Era of Virtual Care

BY: NORM WETTERAU, MD - FMHF PRESIDENT

The January 24, 2019 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine had an opinion article titled, Navigating Loneliness in the Era of Virtual Care. This esteemed journal has had several articles on physician burnout and this article addresses an aspect of that theme. The Article below is based on this article, plus additional ideas from the newsletter’s editor in paragraph 2 and 4, Norman Wetterau.


Doctors used to make hospital rounds and discuss cases on the floor or in the doctor’s lounge. Doctors belonged to medical societies. They ate lunch and at times dinner together. Today they communicate with the front desk via the EMR, so they may not see any fellow doctors or staff during their day in the office. They see patients with their face in the EMR. There is much written about burnout, and this opinion article addresses what may be part of it. In addition to what this article says, there is the subject of social cohesiveness in the younger generation. They are not joiners of medical organizations, other groups or churches. My grandson, who rarely gets together with his friends after school argues that they are more connected due to social media. There may be some truth to this, but not for all teens, and certainly not for doctors who spend 60 hours a week on the electronic medical record and no longer see medical or other friends.

Once burnout begins, some people become more isolated. The workload is so great that there is no time to talk to someone at lunch or to share an evening together. A feeling of hopelessness comes on. This same process happens in other areas of one’s life. When things go bad, hide out. The article proposes some solutions, including face to face time with other health professionals. Some of this time is in non-medical activates and large medical groups can help felicitate this. Another way is through discussion about certain themes of medicine and of life. What he describes sounds a little like our retreats. As members of the Free Methodist Health Fellowship, let us see our own churches, and even our fellowship as a solution to loneliness. God made us to be connected. Being involved in a church is part of this and being connected to a group like the Free Methodist Healthcare Fellowship cannot hurt.

Let’s invite other: MDs, NPs, PAs, RNs, and others. Our theme for September’s Conference is: Serving God Throughout our Professional Lives, will bring us together to explore this, whether one is just starting out or is in retirement. The speaker, Dr. Bill Morehouse, also brought doctors and medical students together through the University of Rochester Christian Fellowship. One good way to prevent or address burnout is to share time and one’s life with others, including those Christians in our profession. A weekend of physical, social, and spiritual refreshment is a good way to find joy and prevent burnout. Share this article and invite a friend to come along too.