Avoiding the risks of isolation in healthcare

Working in healthcare has many pressures and is not easy.  There is the pressure of achieving results through effective care, making diagnostic decisions, achieving clinical compliance, keeping knowledge up to date and the concern to avoid patient complaints.  Not to mention the daily pressure of working to time with your list and the physical exertion of work as well as the mental/emotional strain from the conversations and support given to patients.  All practitioners feel the pressure to varying degrees throughout their career.

Many practitioners in private practice work in isolation.  Even in a multiple practitioner practice it is often very isolated.  Colleagues are busy treating patients and often work in more than 1 clinic so ‘don’t have time’ to sit and talk in a busy working day.

It is important though, whatever your work-situation, that you take steps to avoid being isolated and to manage the professional pressures you are exposed to.   Think what advice you would give to someone else who was working in your situation?  You are probably not following that advice at the moment, but perhaps it is time to take heed…..

Professor Zubin Austin (2011)  has researched factors leading to professional incompetence and isolation has been identified as a clear predictive marker.  Isolation is repeatedly referred to in literature from regulators regarding reducing complaints against practitioners.

What is the problem with professional isolation? (Holden et al, 2012)

  • There are fewer opportunities to share new information
  • There is not opportunity to discuss complex cases and receive feedback and different perspectives
  • There is a greater risk of chronic ill-health as practitioners working in isolation are less likely to take time off sick because of the pressures of work-load and rearranging clinics
  • Isolated practitioners have a tendency to fall behind the times and become out-dated in their ideas.  They tend to become less able to contribute to professional dialogue and become negative in their opinions
  • There is no opportunity to share burdens so the pressures of work can increase and take their toll

These are just some of the issues with working in isolation and I am sure you can think of more, but the picture is that isolation is not good for your professional practice.

How to avoid isolation

  • Join a professional organisation and attend regional meetings regularly
  • Meet with other business owners locally – there are a wide variety of local business networking events
  • Attend courses regularly which will give you opportunity to speak with colleagues.  It is easy to attend some courses without speaking to others but make the most of any opportunity to learn from and support one another
  • Set-up regular meetings in practice or with colleagues from neighbouring practices or colleagues you trained with etc.

Many healthcare professions undertake regular supervision including midwives, those working in mental health and social workers.  It is also being encouraged for nurses and health visitors.  Clinical supervision takes different forms such as one-to-one supervision, group supervision or peer group supervision and will usually involve discussions regarding administration of case management, reflecting on and learning from practice, personal support, professional development and on occasions mediation.  Sound advice and emotional support leads to increasing confidence for practitioners and improved competence in practice.  Several regulators have or plan to introduce peer review as a means of reducing professional isolation and enabling practitioners to discuss and develop their practice.

Avoiding isolation takes time out of your diary.  At first you may feel this is a ‘waste of time’ with loss of income and time but if you schedule the meetings regularly it will soon become part of your routine and you will find the professional gains far outweigh any costs.  When you consider the risks from isolation to yourself and your patients, it is invaluable to avoid being exposed to those risks.  Good practitioners will be regularly networking with other professionals and also have a means of professional support from peers.

If you are feeling isolated maybe someone has come to mind that you feel would be able to offer you professional support.  Give them a call, or send them an email, show them this article and put a regular time in the diary to start supporting one another – the benefits will be immeasurable.



Austin Z. (2011) Fight Competency Drift: Stay Engaged.  College of Physiotherapists of Ontario Perspectives Thought Leadership. Vol s No. 5 pp 2,3

Community Care (2013) How supervision can help care workers improve their practice Available at: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2013/02/18/how-supervision-can-help-care-workers-improve-their-practice/

Holden, J.D.; Cox, S.J. and Hargreaves, S. (2012) Avoiding isolation and gaining insight, BMJ Careers Available at: http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20006663

Nadirshaw, Z. and  Torry, B. (2004) Transcultural health care practice: Transcultural clinical supervision in health care.  Royal College of Nursing Available at: http://www.rcn.org.uk/development/learning/transcultural_health/clinicalsupervision

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