How digital care technology can alleviate provider burnout 

The healthcare industry must embrace high-value data and analytics applications in ways that support our human workforce.

This article is part of the February 2023 COVERstory.

The global healthcare community continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and, with hindsight, assess the digital care technology that helped hospitals be agile in the face of a rapidly changing healthcare emergency and increased demand.

Many believe that digital care technology promises a better, brighter future for the industry and the providers supporting it. High-value data, insights, analytics and augmented intelligence (AI) are vital tools that can drive efficiencies and cost savings, support team member well-being, improve the patient experience and ultimately accomplish the Quadruple Aim.  

Over the last three years, burnout has plagued healthcare organizations as the industry struggles to set a sustainable standard for healthcare providers. According to a 2022 Physician Burnout & Depression Report from Medscape, the two specialties that report the highest burnout are critical care and emergency medicine, with 56 percent and 60 percent of surveyed physicians in those specialties reporting burnout, respectively. Burnout negatively affects not only the recruitment but also the retention of professionals, as the aging members of the provider workforce consider leaving for retirement, resulting in long-tail consequences for organizations. The industry is still seeing high turnover with prolonged pressure as healthcare employment is still below pre-COVID levels.  

The lack of workforce support within the industry was a mounting pressure further exacerbated by the pandemic. However, when responding to COVID-19, some organizations successfully reduced this pressure by using digital care technology.  

The innovative solutions the pandemic resulted in healthcare organizations being able to reach more patients through telehealth platforms, support population health initiatives through analytics applications and predict staffing needs with AI.  

This support provided by AI and automated patient engagement technology solutions can help stave off burnout, as the top reason  reported by physicians was too many bureaucratic tasks, such as paperwork, charting and other mundane tasks. 

How tech can help  

One example of how AI can do this can be seen in how Carle Health leveraged a data platform to automate ongoing professional practice evaluation, a robust scorecard that accurately reflected the performance of all providers, and integrated quality in a meaningful way.  

Rather than performing burdensome manual chart reviews, the organization used an analytics solution to generate provider scorecards on demand, ensuring each provider’s performance was reviewed regularly. As a result, Carle could quickly and efficiently provide medical directors with provider-specific performance metrics for each credentialed medical staff member, highlighting any metrics meriting additional review. The use of the data platform saved 17,000 labor hours in manual data collection, aggregation, and reporting. Carle added 400 advanced practice providers and two hospitals to the processes without adding additional resources, and the hospital exceeded the accreditation requirements of the comprehensive OPPE process.

Another example of how digital care technology can alleviate mounting healthcare needs is outlined in a March 2022 case study. A large healthcare system identified the need for robust telehealth-based efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization deployed a new patient engagement platform and was able to rapidly expand care capacity to meet increasing demand, ensuring that more than 38,000 patients were supported through COVID-19 screening, testing, treatment and monitoring. 

These two different organizations’ adaptions resulted in solutions that they can continue to rely on when staffing and supplying their organizations to support their communities in the future. Data is not only an asset when managing new and rapidly changing situations but also ongoing pressures of staffing shortages and charting. 

The right environment

Another way hospitals can leverage digital technology to create a sustainable and supportive environment for providers and patients is by using analytics applications to predict staffing needs.   

Carle Health used a data platform, a capacity planning tool and AI for its capacity-planning efforts during the height of the pandemic, supporting its leadership team in making timely decisions and improving the effectiveness of COVID-19 planning and response. Carle identified an upcoming surge in infections and demand for inpatient beds five days before the wave occurred. Leadership was prepared to respond to the predicted increase in demand, activate contingency staffing plans and adjust its staffing model to ensure it made the best use of its nursing staff’s skills and abilities while providing safe patient care. Leaders also used this forecasted increased demand to proactively engage Carle’s supply chain, reaching out to suppliers to obtain adequate supplies in time. 

According to a June 2022 case study, Hawai‘i Pacific Health (HPH) used a data platform to forecast its workforce needs and effectively manage staff schedules — two changes that led to $2.2 million in savings in just 16 months while maintaining high-quality outcomes. 

Adequately staffing a healthcare system not only ensures providers have the necessary team to support the care required but also guides the organization so that it is paying for an appropriately sized staff. One of the significant drivers of healthcare operating expenses is labor management. An August Kaufman Hall National Hospital Flash Report shows that labor spending has increased more than 9 percent from 2021, after a 16.4 percent increase year-over-year from 2020.

While the industry is still a long way from optimizing data intelligence to solve all its problems, enabling strategies using analytics and technology is critical to supporting care teams, reducing costs and optimizing care outcomes.  

Going forward, we must embrace high-value data and analytics applications in ways that support our human workforce. Informed decision-making, combined with AI adoption, will enable streamlined, scalable care decisions that can effectively address the burnout the industry is facing while enabling improved health outcomes.

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