How technology can play a key role in relieving clinician burnout

Patients and providers want to ensure data flows freely, but the right tools must bring order to this information to enable its effective and efficient use.

Clinicians see data overload as a cause of burnout, but tech tools have the potential to reduce administrative burden.

This article is part of the February 2023 COVERstory.

Technology has given clinicians more useful and necessary patient information.

Even so, the problem of siloed data stacks still persists. Additionally, integration challenges and lack of usability or education around ease of use has contributed to accelerating rates of clinician burnout. The industry is also increasingly complex and additional stakeholders create new demands for clinicians.

Clinicians now spend nearly twice as much time working on manual work as they spend with patients. What’s more, clinician burnout costs the U.S. healthcare system about $4.6 billion a year — and if the trend continues, 75 percent of healthcare workers may leave the profession by 2025.

As clinicians grapple with how to address the issue of widespread burnout, the good news is the right technology solutions can help automate processes to reduce administrative burden.

Here’s a look at how technology use within the provider setting continues to evolve, where it stands today and what must happen for clinicians to benefit from advancing technologies that have so much promise in improving patient care.

Technology in the evolutionary sequence

Care delivery is more complex than ever before. Many more stakeholders and risk-bearing entities are involved in a patient’s individual care journey, and there is a new need to satisfy them all, creating more administrative burden on clinicians.

All stakeholders have their own sets of information and data they need, and all want input in how to treat and care for the patient. These demands increase provider fatigue, stress and burnout, and thus can impact quality of care they are attempting to measure.

This environment doesn’t enable clinicians to perform at the top of their licenses — focusing on paperwork rather than patients — creating downstream effects on the entire healthcare system.

This is not a new problem. Electronic medical records (EMRs), which traditionally have grown out of legacy patient billing systems, have workflow requirements that differ from those that efficiently deliver patient care.

Clinicians now also face an exploding number of mobile apps and devices that purport helping patients diagnose and treat their own conditions, with a concerning number of these apps lacking the desired level of transparency and evidence to support their claims, presenting a vast volume of data to manage. So while patients and providers alike want highly usable and interoperable technology at their disposal — their needs, like ease of access and clinical validation — have so far not been a top priority.

Finally, there has been appropriate enthusiasm over TEFCA and general bipartisan support in breaking down traditional healthcare data silos, empowering both patients and providers to ensure their data can flow more freely across health systems and other parts of the care continuum. But again, more data is not necessarily more information or even insightful.

As an infectious disease doctor, I can personally attest that spelunking in one’s own EMR for critical patient data is hard enough (in my case, for “bugs and drugs,” or more specifically, for what diseases have they had and what antimicrobials have they been on). Getting access to every EMR that may have more of my patient’s data, without an easy way to look through them — I’m not sure that’s an improvement.

While growing data access within healthcare is primed to prepare and empower clinicians to better deliver the best possible outcomes, it is also creating excessive burden on providers if the right technology to manage it is not in place.

Technology’s role in solving burnout 

Improved communication between doctors and patients improves the quality of care. Further, with the right technology in place to support real-time decision making, clinicians can share the right information about a patient’s care to all stakeholders involved, reducing the access gap. This digitized, unified and standardized data can deliver the information clinicians need to optimize care quality and costs.

By deploying emerging technologies such as AI, voice recognition and virtual assistants, it portends a world in which a clincian can easily document exams, create orders and retrieve clinical data using just their voice or an application. In fact, 94 percent of clinicians believe speech recognition and virtual assistant technology will improve the ability to document care, and 97 percent of clinicians currently using this technology are more focused, personable and engaged.

What’s more, as we create more standard and evidenced-based care models, it will also become easier for care collaborators to surface abnormalities in a patient’s chart, communicate those findings asynchronously and enable the appropriate interventions when necessary. When evidence-based care models are adopted across care teams, true collaboration is realized and care quality improves.

Today, we see fewer care providers going into buildings where actual care is taking place. The rise of virtual care has created an increased need for digitized information, and technology that goes beyond FitBit or the Apple Watch is increasingly being utilized. Innovation in health IT means that data can reduce errors and improve patient care while also helping physicians perform their work faster from anywhere, proving technology and digitization are now essential parts of the healthcare landscape.

The bottom line is technology and digitization enable more informed care, helping clinicians make the right care decisions and, ultimately, feel more valued in the process. By enabling technology to do what it is designed to do — automate and eliminate low-value work — clinicians can spend more time on direct care and operate at the highest level of their license.

There is great urgency to solve the care challenges clinicians face presented by mounting burnout. In the future, technology will play an increasingly important, complementary role in care delivery — not just supporting clinicians, but empowering them to do their job with ease. As innovative solutions that automate and digitize administrative work are developed at scale, the industry will witness efficiency and precision.

Ben Zaniello, MD, MPH, is a practicing infectious disease doctor and chief medical officer of PointClickCare.

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