Today, our healthcare system is changing, and it’s changing quickly.
What’s leading the way for the remarkable shifts we’re seeing in our industry? Record-breaking investments into digital health (more than $14 billion in 2018 alone). Every day, we see digital health leaders working toward more affordable and accessible care for patients everywhere.
However, as we evolve and advance, we can’t ignore the glaring problem that still plagues the industry: clinician burnout. It’s a terrible symptom of a system that’s no longer working. Clinicians are 15 times more likely to experience burnout compared to any other working professional, and they’re killing themselves at alarming rates — the highest of any profession.
I believe the very technology we’re creating to better serve patients can also save clinicians — as long as we’re mindful of how we bring forth change. Here’s how we can do it.
Tech is helping clinicians prioritize flexibility, autonomy and career mobility
Our most recent generation of clinicians are approaching work very differently than their predecessors. Studies show that more Millennials are choosing to stay at home than Gen X before them. Many attribute this to our current economic climate and a changing attitude towards work-life balance.
In healthcare, technology is keeping pace with this cultural shift by empowering clinicians to live on their own terms. How? Currently, one in five physicians use telehealth. That number is expected to triple to more than 60 percent by 2022, with many stating that they plan to adopt new technology because they’re experiencing burnout and want more flexibility.
What does this new work-life balance look like for clinicians? A level of career mobility that hasn’t been available to them until now. For example, with asynchronous medical assessments, the days of darting from exam room to exam are behind us. These software-enabled questionnaires mirror a clinician-patient interaction, so clinicians can review responses on their own time to diagnose and develop a treatment plan in a matter of minutes.
Technology is alleviating the pressure felt from a growing physician shortage
Burnout is intensifying another crucial problem in the healthcare industry: our physician shortage. Recent findings suggest that by 2030, the United States will have a shortage of 120,000.
What does burnout have to do with this? Many clinicians are reducing hours at work to alleviate their feelings of burnout. This is especially true for young clinicians who are starting families. Female clinicians in particular take on a disproportionate share of child care and family responsibilities. To manage this new chapter in life, they’re often faced with taking a “career detour.”
New digital health solutions are shifting this reality, offering options that allow clinicians to work when and where they want. This is a significant win for the healthcare system. We get to retain highly qualified clinicians who might otherwise have no other option but to leave the profession–temporarily or permanently. It’s also a huge win for our clinicians. They no longer have to ask, “is it possible to work,” and instead get to decide “when and how am I going to work.”
Clinicians’ jobs are becoming more and more efficient
One reason we’re seeing the fast adoption of telehealth technology among clinicians is because it’s making their jobs more efficient–not more difficult. We might think it’s a no-brainer that technology should make our lives easier, but in healthcare, that hasn’t always been the case. For example, with past advancements like electronic health records, a common complaint was the cumbersome administrative tasks that came with them.
By Brooke Faulkner, freelance writer; @faulknercreek
Picture a long day — one that’s longer than most. Maybe you wake up early, have a checklist of morning tasks to do, then head off to catch a flight. Once you land, you have to change, make your way to a work conference, give a speech, and mingle for an hour. Back at the hotel, you unpack, shower, and work some more until 1 a.m., when you can finally sleep.
Exhausting, right? Now imagine that for that entire day, you’re on your feet and working. There’s no flight to relax on and no mingling with people for an hour. During that time, your main goal is to take care of others; you’re solely responsible for their health and well-being. How exhausted would you be then? This is what doctors and nurses go through, and for anyone outside of the healthcare industry, it’s nearly impossible to envision what a week, or even a shift, is like.
What is healthcare provider fatigue?
Healthcare providers work incredibly long hours. Nurses often work 12-hour night shifts — sometimes even longer if there’s a nursing shortage. Doctors may work for double that, especially when they’re new to the job. Indeed, medical residents in the United States can work up to 28 hours in one shift. Without proper rest and sleep, fatigue and burnout can set in. This can impact the individual’s health and well-being, and it can also have negative consequences for patients.
There’s another type of burnout, too: compassion fatigue, a central problem to balancing work and personal life as a nurse. This happens when healthcare providers are emotionally or physically distressed from forming emotional connections with their patients. This often happens when dealing with patients who are going through a serious medical event, like a trauma or a chronic illness. Creating a work-life balance is one of the best ways to combat compassion fatigue.
Consequences of healthcare provider fatigue
When healthcare providers don’t have enough time to rest and sleep, it can result in negative patient outcomes, such as inaccuracies when administering drugs, injuries from accidental needle sticks, surgical errors, and poor operation of medical equipment. Other signs of burnout include:
Impaired cognition and learning ability
Low career engagement
Negative feelings and moods
Poor communication skills
Poor sense of achievement
Slow reaction time
The good news is that burnout is manageable. Healthcare organizations have to treat burnout before it becomes a problem. Once they do so, job performance and the number of errors in patient care will both be improved.
6 ways to improve healthcare provider fatigue
Fatigue isn’t a random occurrence; it’s the culmination of patterns related to scheduling disorganization and poor organizational policies. Since you can point to specific causes of fatigue, the problem can also be fixed with personal and organizational changes.
This report won’t come as news to the millions of physicians spending huge chunks of their days on clerical and administrative work, instead of the patient work for which they’ve studied and practiced many long years.
But it also presents an enormous opportunity, as the report reveals reducing data entry can be a crucial (and pretty realistic, given modern technology) step in retaining key physicians, as well as increasing operational accuracy and efficiency. Let’s get physicians away from data entry and back to practicing top of license.
What’s behind increased data entry requirements?
Before we look at solutions to reduce the data entry burden on physicians, it’s critical to know where the demand is coming from. Multiple factors contribute to this problem, including:
The ubiquity of EHR systems
The professed goal of EHR systems was to give physicians access to vital patient data and streamline billing and coding processes. All too often, however, doctors find themselves bogged down by data entry instead of caring for their patients. To save time, many physicians copy and paste clinical documentation from one record to the next, providing more opportunity for dangerous inaccuracies to slip into patient files.
Lack of integration
Healthcare providers today use multiple different systems to coordinate care, and more often than not, those systems don’t talk to each other. Building integrations between these systems takes a lot of time and resources, and it is especially taxing on IT teams already working through huge backlogs. In the meantime, who’s responsible for ensuring the right data goes into all the applicable systems? Overtired physicians who’d rather be doing anything else.
Leading CEOs will never say “wellness” is a top priority. Instead, they care about increasing revenue, providing great customer service or disrupting their market. Most see “an engaged workforce” as a path to these results. Even today’s successful “well-being” programs, which look nothing like their early predecessors (annual biometrics and flu shots, anyone?) are largely ignored by CEOs, and rarely connect to the purpose of the company.
Yes, many employers have embraced a more comprehensive whole-person approach to well-being, one that addresses emotional, physical, work and even financial well-being. But these alone can’t solve burnout.
These evolved “well-being” programs look beyond simple health outcomes and have a direct connection to improved employee well-being and critical business outcomes like employee engagement and reduced turnover.
For example, 88 percent of employees with higher well-being feel engaged at work, compared to 50 percent of employees with lower well-being. And 98 percent of employees with both higher well-being and a higher perception that their company supports their well-being say they want to be working at the same company in one year.
But even with this data at their fingertips, most C-suite leaders still find well-being too fluffy, hard-to-measure and irrelevant to their businesses. So, they have to look even more broadly. And the well-being industry needs to evolve and become relevant, or die.
When companies take a broader look at the results associated with an engaged and energized workforce, they’ll find real ROI within programs that were once seen as traditional wellness or well-being focused. ‘Engaged’ here doesn’t mean having well-being — it means a deep connection and sense of purpose at work that provides extra energy and commitment. And that’s what drives business results. Until employers combine well-being with employee engagement in their strategies, measurement approaches and programs, they will never solve employee burnout.
From on fire to burned out Because it sits at the intersection of something CEOs largely ignore — well-being — and something they pay attention to with increasing frequency — employee engagement — it’s not typically measured in one place. (Until now.) And you can only manage what you can measure.
Employee burnout is created by ongoing and intense job-related stress. This shows up in employees as exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy, especially among the most talented and engaged employees.
Burnout is also associated with absenteeism, intention to leave the job and actual turnover. But for people who stay on the job, burnout leads to lower productivity, and decreased job satisfaction. Plus, it has negative impacts on team members. Burnout is often “contagious,” spreading toxicity across a team or spilling over into life outside of work. Cynical people just do worse work. It’s proven.
To burn out, an employee must be highly engaged and care deeply enough to get to the point of feeling burned out. Those at most risk for burnout are the top performing employees that employers can’t afford to lose.
In a new report, the Limeade Institute determined that burnout emerges when a highly engaged employee begins to have low well-being. Sadly, this is often a result of work pressure and lack of support from the employer.
“You have to be on fire in order to burn out,” said Dr. Hamill, lead researcher and Chief Science Officer of the Limeade Institute. “While both disengaged and burned out employees are at high risk for turnover, burnout is not the same as disengagement. If an employee isn’t feeling the energy or commitment from being engaged at work, then they’re most likely disengaged — not suffering from burnout.”
The Limeade Institute found employers are actively driving out top talent by causing the burnout and leaving it up to employees to deal with alone. The most common causes of burnout are not individual, but rather organizational; think work overload, role ambiguity, lack of feedback, lack of support and a perceived lack of fairness.
Burnout is acutely rampant in healthcare, particularly among caregivers. According to research from the Mayo Clinic, more than half of physicians report one or more symptoms of burnout. Similar research found the prevalence of burnout among nurses is as high as 70 percent and as high as 50 percent for physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. And Stanford Medicine research highlights that it costs them between $250,000 and almost $1 million every time they need to replace a physician. They estimate physician burnout costs at least $7.75 million a year. Keeping just a dozen physicians from burning out is worth millions to just one hospital.