For many provider organizations, one way to address burnout begins with making clinicians’ lives easier by giving them the right technology to seamlessly access critical patient data at the point of care.
Fueled by staffing shortages and pandemic-related strain, burnout is a growing problem that exacts a heavy personal and professional toll on clinicians and further taxes an already stressed workforce.
A recent survey by the American Medical Association of more than 20,000 U.S. healthcare workers reveals the extent of the problem: 49% reported at least one symptom of burnout, while 43% said they suffered from work overload. Researchers found higher levels of stress among women and people from Black and Latinx communities. Greater levels of stress and burnout were associated with fear of COVID-19 exposure or transmission, with self-reported anxiety and depression, or work overload.
Not surprisingly, healthcare workers are experiencing these high levels of burnout as the existing workforce continues to thin. Employment in the healthcare sector is down by 460,000 since February 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A report from Morning Consult found that 18% of healthcare workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic, while another 12% have been laid off.
Additionally, the Morning Consult report revealed that, among healthcare workers who have kept their jobs during the pandemic, 31% have considered leaving, while 79% said the national worker shortage has affected them and their places of work.
Healthcare workers are, indeed, “quitting in droves,” and after reading this chilling account in The Atlantic from a former New Jersey emergency physician describing her daily routine in the early days of the pandemic, it is easy to understand why: “I’d walk past an ice truck of dead bodies, and pictures on the wall of cleaning staff and nurses who’d died, into a room with more dead bodies.”
The negative effects of clinician burnout can be felt by nearly all stakeholders across the healthcare industry. For example, one 2019 study estimated that physician burnout costs the industry $4.6 billion each year, with the costs primarily driven by clinician turnover and a reduction of clinical hours.
Clinicians who experience burnout may exhibit multiple symptoms ranging from low energy, exhaustion, compassion fatigue, insomnia, and irritability, to feeling a lack of purpose in their jobs; they may even turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. For patients, burnout may result in a lower quality-of-care as clinicians experiencing physical and emotional stress are more likely to make mistakes that generate poorer health outcomes.
Without question, the problem of clinician burnout predates the pandemic, driven in part by high patient demand for services, a shortage of clinical professionals, and the stress of practicing medicine in a high-pressure, rushed environment. For example, one 2017 study found that the average patient visit with a primary care clinician lasted only around 15 minutes and often covered up to a half-dozen health issues. Making matters worse, clinicians are sometimes forced to use significant portions of valuable patient-care time trying to find or enter data on a digital screen.
Clearly, something needs to change within the practice of medicine to reduce clinician burnout.
Given a problem as complex and multifaceted as clinician burnout, it is apparent that no one approach will solve this problem. Fundamentally, helping clinicians cope with burnout starts with providing them with the supplies and resources they need to effectively and safely deliver care. To understand these needs, healthcare organizations must maintain open lines of communication with physicians to determine steps needed to eliminate supply and resource shortages. Further, a supply chain and inventory review may result in the identification of other cost-savings opportunities.
Reduced patient loads on overworked clinicians would also help ease stress but given the high demand for care from an aging population and the ongoing healthcare worker shortage, relief is unlikely to appear any time soon.
For many provider organizations, the way to end burnout begins with making clinicians’ lives easier by giving them the right technology to seamlessly access critical patient data at the point of care during patient visits. A technology platform that organizes point-of-care data for clinicians can also help boost staff efficiency, helping healthcare organizations overcome difficulties caused by staffing shortages.
With analytics capabilities, these platforms support care coordination by ensuring that clinicians can track at-risk patients and deliver outreach when needed, helping providers avoid unnecessary costs and advance patient outcomes. Analytics-based solutions are particularly useful in helping clinicians manage patients who are not complying with medication orders, enabling physicians to intervene with patients prior to the occurrence of adverse health events.
Technology itself—no matter how advanced or powerful—will not solve the nation’s crisis of clinician burnout, but it can boost efficiency and mitigate stress. Technology, along with better resource allocation and clearer communication with clinicians, is a key ingredient to ease the industry-wide burdens of healthcare worker burnout.
Jessica Scruton, B.S.N., RN, CCM, is vice president of clinical transformation at Lightbeam Health.