Tech innovation can mitigate physician burnout

When used appropriately, technology can be a powerful tool for alleviating stress.

The ongoing Coronavirus global health emergency has pushed physicians to a breaking point. One recent survey conducted among healthcare workers, close to 83% of respondents who were doctors reported that the mean pandemic-related burnout score was significantly higher than personal and work-related burnout scores.

But physician burnout has more to it than just the huge workload that COVID-19 has brought with it and the difficult decisions that need to be made. It’s also routine stressors like the IT used to do administrative work.

When used appropriately, technology can be a powerful tool for alleviating stress.

In this piece, we will be exploring a few ways technology can mitigate burnout among physicians and help them maintain a healthy work-life balance.

1) Data Management Solutions can Help Streamline Documentation

According to a recent research study conducted by ScienceDaily, one of the biggest sources of stress for doctors is the inclusion of maintaining electronic health records (EHR) to their already exhaustive list of duties to be performed on a regular basis.

More time spent doing clerical documentation work implies less time spent with patients and/or less personal time spent out of the workplace. This obviously isn’t ideal, but it also puts a strain on disillusioned physicians who spent years studying with the hope of getting to work closely with patients and honing their craft.

So then, where exactly does the solution lie?

Effective data management is the key to rid physicians of this problem. Some of the ways this can be done include:

Automating processes within the EHR system itself that don’t require a physician’s immediate attention,

Leveraging data management software to keep information consistent, concise and easily accessible,

Leveraging cloud hosting to store patient data in order to boost its interoperability across the organization,

Natural language processing (NLP) is one effective technology solution physicians can leverage for processing unstructured text-notes,

Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS) can help make sense of healthcare data with the latest evidence, as well as suggest treatments tailored to each patient and furnish personalized care plans,

Machine learning (ML), a subset of AI, can be applied to complex data in order to predict patterns that the human eye could have missed, and health outcomes in general. These predictions can be used to describe patterns and trends on a macro-level for the authorities and the general public, or targeted to help a specific patient group.

Health data is growing highly complex and multi-dimensional with every passing day. Therefore, data management is now more a necessity for any medical organization trying to mitigate burnout among physicians and other support staff than it ever has been.

2) Adopting Telemedicine can Leave Clinicians with More Time

The unnerving number of tasks that demand too much of a doctor’s time and attention on a daily basis can drive them up the wall—more so if their schedules aren’t designed as they should be, and there is a shortage of resources.

A Vocera report conducted by HIMSS Analytics found that continuous interruptions from phone calls, pagers, alerts from apps, and texts create stress that, in succession, fuels burnout in doctors and nurses.

This suggests that one of the factors that can help prevent burnout considerably is having an integrated, well-designed solution in place.

Telemedicine can prove to be one effective solution on this front. By integrating telemedicine within one’s practice, or even adding telemedicine to a hospital system, physicians can easily streamline processes, offload some aspects of their work, and generally make their lives easier.

This is clearly evident from the fact that telemedicine adoption has skyrocketed in recent years. Close to 60% of human healthcare providers now regard telemedicine as a favorable solution, and a lot of patients feel the level of care furnished through this solution is as effective, or even better than in-person doctor visits (per the 2020 Doximity State of Telemedicine Report). There are a number of reasons telemedicine can help mitigate physician burnout and stress. To name a few:

  • By providing remote consultations, doctors can focus more on patient care, deploy any interventions as needed and strengthen treatment adherence which, in turn, reduces additional hospital visits or emergency visits,
  • Physicians feel less rushed or pressured for time when they use telemedicine since they aren’t backed up or trying to get to the next appointment as soon as possible. This makes them feel more in control of the situation and keeps them from suffering at the hands of burnout,
  • Telemedicine allows physicians to complete administrative work while at home versus them having to stay late at the office, which can positively impact their emotional and mental health.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are many other ways in which telemedicine integration can prove to be instrumental in mitigating burnout among doctors. Therefore, telemedicine adoption is a win-win situationfor both patients as well as their providers.

3) Healthcare Wearables and Apps can Ensure Overall Wellbeing

In today’s times, the majority of ways in which physician burnout is treated are reactive. When providers start to feel sick, experience pain, some form of trauma, or self-realize their job is taking a toll on their overall wellbeing, that is when they start taking the necessary measures. And it’s often too late.

This entire scenario requires more of a proactive approach.

With wearable technology, there is potential for a more progressive approach to one’s holistic wellbeing. Rather than reacting to the harmful effects of burnout once they begin causing problems, wearables can be used to take action right during the initial stages.

Healthcare wearables, along with a myriad of health apps available in the market today, can collect a lot of important data about a physician’s vitals such as blood oxygen levels, heart rate, blood pressure, activity level, sleep patterns, etc. This data can prove to be highly instrumental in exhibiting before them first signs of burnout.

Therefore, this is one technology solution providers can look to leveraging in order to track their own health and mitigate signs of burnout even before they start showing.

Closing Words

All in all, the issue of physician burnout has various facets to it.

Being able to discern what can be done to make workflows seamless is one thing that can alleviate burnout to some extent, and technology can sometimes—but not always—be the ideal solution to these problems.

Physicians need to be vigilant for burnout, and there are many strategies to do this. Maybe it’s a non-tech intervention that will work best for you and your team, like adding a coffee break to your day, a morning run, or perhaps a long vacation. But don’t underestimate technological innovations too, they are certainly worth exploring.

About the Author

Ashley Mitek has been working in specialized veterinary medicine for over 10 years and has anesthetized thousands of high-risk veterinary patients. She is also the cofounder of Cloud Animal Health, an online marketplace where primary care veterinarians can connect with specialists that offer virtual consults and other custom services worldwide.