Improving the Professional Environment

An important aspect of advancing medical professionalism is ensuring that the environment and culture in which physicians work are conducive to professional behavior. Much of our work focuses on exploring innovative ways to address and overcome existing issues within organizations or within the profession itself to remove obstacles to medical professionalism.

Examples of this work include efforts to determine how physicians are best motivated to provide quality care, address the high rate of burnout and dissatisfaction among primary care physicians, and examine the effect that technology and the system at-large has on physicians’ feelings about their work.

[Re]Building Trust: A Path Forward

For a second year, the ABIM Foundation convened health care leaders to consider the importance of trust and to move toward identifying and shaping strategies and tactics for building trust across a variety of health care contexts, settings and relationships at its 2019 Forum: [Re]Building Trust: A Path Forward.

Kimball Lecturer Toyin Ajayi, MD, Chief Health Officer of Cityblock Health, a tech-driven provider for communities with complex health and social needs, set the stage for conference discussion with a compelling message about replacing “lazy proxies” for trust in health care with more authentic relationships and patient-centered care.

The winners of the Trust Practice Challenge presented on practices that they currently use to build trust, and eight medical students and residents, who published essays in Academic Medicine about their experiences with trust, delivered short presentations on their writings, speaking about:

  • the importance of listening and asking patients “what else” they want to discuss
  • shared decision making at the end of life
  • longer mentorships in residency programs
  • cultural understanding in care delivery

Foundation participants also met in small groups to discuss specific strategies and tactics that could be replicated and scaled to establish trust as a core operating principle in health care. As with the 2018 Forum, the groups plan to produce articles for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

[Re]Building Trust

The 2018 ABIM Foundation Forum: [Re]Building Trust convened health care leaders to consider the importance of trust and strategies for building and rebuilding it across a variety of health care relationships.

At the meeting, Kimball Lecturer Adam Berinsky, PhD, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science at MIT, discussed the dramatic drop in public confidence in experts and expertise, a decline that manifested itself in decreased public confidence in medical science.

Other speakers addressed:

  • the importance of trust in health care; describing the evidence that it makes people more likely to engage in healthful behaviors, enables innovation, and helps society respond to public health crises and other epidemics.
  • trust levels among racial and ethnic minority groups in the health care system, implicit bias among clinicians, and opportunities for improvement.
  • how to build reciprocal trust between clinicians and patients.
  • health care reporting, its strengths, and how it could be improved to contextualize scientific developments to avoid sensationalism or misinformation.
  • how to build trust in health care systems among patients and employees.

Foundation participants also met in small groups to discuss specific areas of trust, such as patient trust in health systems and medical groups, physician/clinician relationships, clinician/health system relationships and trust of underrepresented minorities in the health system. Each group plans to produce an article on its topic and submit it for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

The Value of Co-Creation in Health Care

The 2016 ABIM Foundation Forum: The Value of Co-Creation in Health Care sought to broaden health care professionals’ understanding of “co-creation” in order to inspire its incorporation into efforts to improve health care.

During the meeting, clinicians, patients, administrators, and experts in the field explored the meaning of co-creation and how it can be applied inside and outside the field. Forum attendees were encouraged to consider:

  • What is co-creation?
  • How can I use it to improve my own work?
  • How can organizations and communities use co-creation to improve performance and care?

The 2016 Forum Summary highlights the rich conversations that took place at the meeting and provides a number of examples of co-creation in action.

Bringing Culture into Focus

The 2015 ABIM Foundation Forum: Bringing Culture into Focus sought to reach a common understanding of how culture can affect performance in health care and its role in facilitating the patient-physician partnership in routine care, care of patients with multiple chronic conditions and care at the end of life.

The summary of the 2015 Foundation Forum (pdf) documents highlights from the meeting.

Specific Forum goals included:

  • Develop a shared understanding of culture, its importance and how it affects attitudes, behaviors, processes and outcomes of care.
  • Explore how culture influences relationships among patients, families, clinicians and administrators. Investigate what a partnership model looks like and how it contrasts with current culture and practice in:
    • Preventive and acute care
    • Care of patients with multiple chronic conditions
    • Serious illness care
    • Redesign of care processes
  • Explore how community culture, organizational culture, and cultural and individual characteristics of patients, families and clinicians affect experience of care, decision-making and outcomes.
  • Examine the experience of organizations and communities that have intentionally changed their culture and improved their performance.

Background materials for the 2015 Forum include:

Rebooting the System for Service and Satisfaction

The 2014 ABIM Foundation Forum: Rebooting the System for Service and Satisfaction focused on how choices in implementation and design of clinical, regulatory and policy environments influence patient care and augment the joy in practice experienced by all members of the clinical team.

Specific goals of the Forum included:

  • Explore how an organization’s implementation of health information technology (HIT), performance improvement and measurement leads them to make choices that have differential impacts and unintended consequences on patient care and clinical teams.
  • Make recommendations on how to align clinical systems with core values of a health care system, i.e., improvement of health outcomes, patient experience, affordable care, professionalism and strong interprofessional teams.
  • Define implementation strategies that activate professionalism and strong interprofessional teams in service of achieving core health system goals.
  • Explore pathways for restoring the healing spirit in service of effective and meaningful patient-clinician relationships.
  • Review opportunities that exist in training programs to activate professionalism within clinical and HIT system design that lead to joy in practice for the next generation of physicians.

Read the 2014 Forum Summary for meeting highlights.

Purpose vs. Payment: Motivating Change in Health Care

The 2013 ABIM Foundation Forum: Purpose vs. Payment: Motivating Change in Health Care focused on what motivates physicians and other health care team members to perform at their highest level, and how we can harness this motivation to support needed changes to the health care system.

Specific goals of the Forum included:

  • Explore what motivates physicians and teams of clinicians to engage and improve health care delivery to achieve the “Triple Aim” (higher quality of care, better population health and lower costs) – professional values, financial rewards or both.
  • Examine the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards deployed by professional standard-setting organizations, physician organizations, health systems and patients/caregivers to motivate physicians and clinicians.
  • Ascertain how such rewards support or inhibit professional values and behaviors.
  • Develop strategies and action plans to motivate and engage clinicians in the processes of change needed to achieve high-performing medical practices that deliver excellent results for patients.

Read the 2013 Forum Summary for highlights of the meeting and action steps.

Finding Joy in Primary Care

Only one-third of physicians in the United States practice primary care, compared to about one-half in other developed nations. Fewer aspiring physicians are choosing to focus in primary care, threatening the quality of care patients receive, citing:

  • long hours of clerical work that doesn’t utilize their training;
  • lower payments; and,
  • frustrating models of practice.

To begin finding solutions to these challenges and revitalize primary care, we funded a team of researchers who visited 23 high-performing practices across the United States seeking innovations that could help restore joy in practice. (Learn more in a Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative webinar presented by Drs. Christine Sinsky and Tom Sinsky.)

Among the sites with high levels of satisfaction, the researchers found common themes, including:

  • Proactive planned care, with pre-visit planning and pre-visit laboratory tests;
  • Sharing clinical care among a team, with expanded rooming protocols, standing orders and panel management;
  • Sharing clinical tasks with collaborative documentation (scribing), non-physician order entry and streamlined prescription management;
  • Improved communication by verbal messaging and inbox management; and,
  • Improved team functioning through co-location, team meetings and workflow mapping.


The team’s research culminated in “In Search of Joy in Practice: A Report of 23 High-Functioning Primary Care Practices,” published in Annals of Family Medicine.

In addition to the Annals article, the authors wrote a white paper (pdf) that describes the innovations at each site in more detail and includes a discussion of several themes, such as:

  • the surprising finding of a hidden anti-team culture in policy and technology;
  • the influence of payment on innovation (practices in a fee-for-service environment developed efficiencies that led to greater capacity; practices in a subsidized environment developed extended services, such as those of a pharmacist and social worker);
  • two contrasting approaches to dealing with the volume of work in primary care (decreasing visits per physician versus reducing the amount of non-physician-level work done by each physician); and,
  • the degree of waste in primary care.

This research also informed a 2012 conference of the ABIM Foundation entitled, Primary Care Innovation: Improving the Efficiency and Appeal of Practice: “How Did They Do That?”. The conference brought together representatives from the visited practices with leaders in primary care to reflect on the research findings, identify a set of principles that could transform the efficiency and appeal of practice, and consider how those principles could be spread more widely.

The authors created a set of action steps for key actors, including insurers, institutions, regulators, payers and technology vendors, as well as a research agenda for improving the practice of primary care.

Site Visits

Read summaries of the 23 sites visited and learn more about their innovations: