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.
By Dr. Deborah Vinton, medical director, emergency department, UVA Health and Inlightened Expert.
The way we talk, think about, plan, and innovate for healthcare delivery has fundamentally changed as a result of COVID-19. For those of us in healthcare, top priorities today are different than they were just a few months ago. Like in so many areas of life, coronavirus is rewriting the status quo.
As a physician on the frontlines, it has become painfully apparent that, as an industry, we have failed to design and develop tools and systems – for us – with us in mind. When it comes to innovating for those delivering the care, empathy is often times out of the process. From PPE (personal protective equipment) to telemedicine and everything in between, the lack of input and understanding may be furthering burnout, negatively impacting patient care, and fueling inefficiencies.
Empathy in innovation: We’ve made progress for patients
In healthcare, we’ve done a better (although not remotely perfect) job of integrating empathy into the design and innovation process for the patient to optimize patient experience. From lobbies to hospital rooms, we’ve seen patient-centric design aimed at delivering more comfortable, less stressful, and seamless experiences.
Patients today enter buildings that are light and airy, no longer have the traditional “sterile” feeling, boast extensive entertainment options, and prioritize patient needs, like access to Wi-Fi and charging stations. Protocols are designed by considering various risks, and prioritizing policies and workflows that will most positively impact the patient. All of these efforts demonstrate a much-needed understanding of – and commitment to – the patient and their experience.
Physicians are left behind and burned out
Like other industries, the evolution of healthcare has been aided by fast-paced innovation and technology. While conversations pre-COVID might have been around electronic health records (EHRs), real-time communication tools, and even innovating the scrubs we wear, COVID-19 has shed light on new priorities and the dramatic gaps that exist in the process for designing provider-centric tools.
According to McKinsey: From 2014 to 2018, there have been more than 580 healthcare technology deals in the United States, each more than $10 million, for a total of more than $83 billion in value. They have been disproportionately focused on three main categories: patient engagement, data and analytics, and new care models.
Consider the quick adoption of telehealth. While the ability to deliver care virtually to the patient was – and still is – unquestionably critical as the country sheltered in place, it has led to a lot of frustration and overwhelm for physicians who are trained to deliver patient care in-person. In medical school, we learn how to read what’s behind the presentation of symptoms and how to ask questions and listen to what’s behind the answer.
But we haven’t yet integrated into the curriculum how to implement technology to feel consistent with the way we’ve been trained to deliver care. We are being asked to understand – and flawlessly use – solutions that can be glitchy, disjointed, and impersonal, while simultaneously delivering care to patients that might be nervous, frustrated, ill, scared, or all of the above.