By Nirav S. Patel, M.D., Memorial Care.
It’s no longer a question of if or when — physicians are burnt out, plain and simple… and COVID-19 is only partially to blame for the strain. Long before the pandemic through a wrench in staffing, operations, and physical resources, hospitals were trying to do more with less, resulting in an increasing number of critical care physicians, and neurointerventionalists specifically, covering two or three hospitals at once — myself included.
Research shows that physicians who cover more than one hospital on-call have two times higher rates of burnout compared to those who covered a single hospital.
Add in physician shortages, increasing patient volumes, and the added strain of the global pandemic, on top of balancing personal and family schedules, and it is no wonder that we are nearing crisis levels of burnout. Physicians are looking for relief.
This burnout can not only negatively affect physician work-life balance and well-being, but also the quality and safety of care delivered to patients. In fact, some reports state that burnout triples the incidence of medical errors. To make matters worse, a study of neurointerventionalists found that physicians meeting criteria for burnout are 17 percent more likely to face malpractice lawsuits. Along with posing harm to patients, this can also hurt health systems financially and in public trust.
On the financial front, burnout in physicians has the potential to cost hospitals millions of dollars each year due to physician turnover and reduced clinical hours. Losing a full-time physician can cost health systems an average of $990,000 each, prompting the hospital to recruit and replace a physician, which costs between $500,000 and $1 million. The same report estimates that approximately $4.6 billion in costs related to physician turnover and reduced clinical hours is attributable to burnout each year in the United States.
Fortunately, emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and internet of things (IoT), have the potential to offer relief. These technologies are helping physicians manage a higher capacity of case volume, by taking over tedious tasks, streamlining and standardizing processes — ultimately resulting in more consistent, quality care.
As a practicing neurologist, I have personally begun to work more closely with these AI-based neuroimaging solutions, and my workload has become considerably more manageable. Even just the simple ability to receive alerts and access my workload from my phone has drastically improved my remaining work-life balance. Previously, I would have to physically go to the hospital setting or find a computer, which in turn would delay care for the patient. Now I have access to more clinical information and imaging at my fingertips, enabling faster and more data-driven decision making and faster treatment times.