Staff shortages, clinician burnout weigh heavily on CEOs

Technology has added to the burden for clinicians. Organizations’ leaders are now demanding, instead, that it lighten their loads.

This article is part of a CEO leadership series

Technology has been a cause of clinician burnout, and CEOs believe it now must provide venefits that support care delivery, CEOs believe.

Healthcare CEOs are facing many challenges in directing their institutions – some have a familiar theme, others are new threats, but most of them have been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These difficulties involve financial problems that have beset organizations for years, but also concern resources that are at the heart of running healthcare organizations – as well as the core of their missions.

Identifying and managing these challenges will take a mix of technology, management and leadership that will test CEOs, according to leaders of healthcare information technology and service companies queried by Health Data Management to assess emerging challenges facing providers and the industry.

The companies spotlighted in the interviews are the highest performing firms in healthcare as recognized by the annual Best of KLAS recognition program, selected by the consultancy because of recognition from customers for their responsiveness to clients, the quality of their products and their knowledge of the industry. These firms, featured in a new series of insights from Health Data Management, Beyond the Rankings, offer a range of products and services, including electronic health records, enterprise resource planning, artificial intelligence, consulting services and more.

The perspectives of these company leaders illustrate how technology can support providers’ evolving healthcare delivery and the key challenges that CEOs must address.

Staffing challenges

Nationwide, healthcare organizations are dealing with a shrinking labor pool for nurses as well as physicians. Burnout because of the pandemic and the aging of the clinical workforce are two of the biggest reasons for shortages.

Indeed, the U.S. Surgeon General has identified staff burnout as a particular point of focus for healthcare organizations.

Related story: Tech combined with shared resources from vendors to help manage staff shortages

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The crisis is expected to grow, especially among physicians, as demand for clinical staff continues to grow faster than supply, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which predicted in 2020 a shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians by 2033. The most alarming gaps are expected in the primary care sector and in rural communities.

Providers have struggled with staffing challenges for a long time, but the need for more staff is now particularly acute. says Ken Graboys, CEO of The Chartis Group.

“It's not the same question as three years ago,” he explains. “If you look at it through that workforce lens, we have more folks leaving the workforce; they've suffered trauma over the past three years, the likes of which the industry has never seen. Health systems and hospitals have never had to care for their caregivers – their mental health, their spiritual health and physical health.”

For years, many front-line caregivers have perceived IT as an additional burden. Now, IT departments must step into the void to assist caregivers and make their jobs easier, says Mike Brandofino, president and COO at Caregility.

Ron Gaboury, CEO and Mike Brandofino, president and COO at Caregility - leverage technology to augment care and improve life for nurses

“CNOs and CIOs need to figure out how to leverage technology to improve the life of nurses within the inpatient environment so that they don't feel like they're overwhelmed all the time,” Brandofino says. “Another big challenge (these clinicians) face is feeling like, ‘This technology in the room is there to watch me.’ We really need to work on that whole experience of the caregivers and make sure they understand why the technology can help them.”

Reducing the strain

Physicians have especially felt the burden of shifting to digitized records. The American Medical Association has focused attention on physician burnout and the burden that EHR documentation has placed on clinicians.

Outsourcing administrative support is critical for provider institutions says Kashyap Joshi of AQuity Solutions

Healthcare leaders need to assess technology to understand the stress that adoption places on users, says Kashyap Joshi, CEO at AQuity Solutions. CEOs need to ask whether “by adopting that new process, am I going to put a burden on my clinical staff – that needs to be thought through. Maybe it’s taking baby steps (in adoption) and do something which is continuous rather than (immediate),” Joshi says.

Technology is not a magic bullet that will automatically alleviate stress on staff, particularly if systems are not fully integrated, says BJ Schaknowski, CEO at symplr.

Symplr's BJ Schaknowski on interoperability in the spotlight of staff shortages

“You need more technology; you need more automation, particularly when you have such an unbelievable labor shortage where a lot of these tasks are manual,” he says. If technology provides true support, “we'll have our nurses and nursing leaders spending less time in front of computer screens and more time providing care. But that only happens if you can integrate systems.”

A new focus on consumers is emerging in healthcare, and CEOs know that improving the user experience is essential, adds Helen Waters, executive vice president and COO at Meditech. “We must focus on delivering an optimized user experience that makes people efficient and happy – reasonably happy using the tools that they have. They're busy, and they want and expect ease of use – and they want a lot of mobility.”

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