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How to combat physician burnout with autonomous tech and data | Jodie Hilliker


There are ways to address burnout, while improving productivity and enabling greater focus on the patient – and they all center around technology used in the practice.

Healthcare providers have hit a wall. Over the past decade or so, they have been at the center of evolutionary change in the healthcare industry – marked by a move to value-based care, constantly changing rules and learning curves associated with new healthcare technology offerings.

Frustration levels and job satisfaction were already high in 2020, then COVID-19 hit. The pandemic added even longer hours to providers' plates and changed the way healthcare is delivered, which further added fuel to the fire resulting in serious provider burnout.

It's clear that healthcare providers today need a prescription for reducing burnout. And while an obvious cure may be eliminating staffing shortages, this is easier said than done, given the tight employment market and need for skilled individuals.

But something can be done here and now to reduce burnout and administrative burdens, which enables providers to get back to the job they love – taking care of patients.

Fanning the flames of healthcare burnout

Over the past decade, increasing patient loads combined with patient charting and staffing shortages have become overwhelming for providers. Providers are required to do more documentation to adhere to value-based care guidelines, and with the growing number of administrative tasks required outside of patient care, frustrations with their profession began to grow.

Figuring out how to incorporate technology into their usual workflows and using it effectively was yet another challenge. Providers spent much of their after-hours time trying to catch up on administrative work, which led to dissatisfaction with their jobs.

In a 2017 study, more than half of the primary care and teaching physicians surveyed indicated they were dissatisfied with their work-life balance, and 37% reported feeling burnout. More than three quarters of them indicated that much of their frustrations came from EHRs and the extra burdens they put on their time.

Then came the pandemic. Staff shortages and continued concern about new waves of COVID, escalating misinformation about treatments and greater resistance to vaccinations have added to the pressure on physicians.

Now, 45% of physicians say they have been experiencing burnout over the past two years, and at least one-third of providers have considered leaving their profession as a result.

Taking steps to reduce burnout

The stressors related to COVID-19 are often outside of providers’ control. But there are ways to address burnout, while improving productivity and enabling greater focus on the patient – and they all center around technology used in the practice. Here are a few steps to consider.

Understand internal workflows.

Take the time to walk through the daily motions of the staff and physicians. The inefficiencies and pain points will quickly become apparent, giving insights on what changes should be made. Often, EHR tools that already exist in the organization can be better utilized to reduce the time spent on certain tasks.

Personalize workspace in the EHR for users.

Giving all end users – particularly busy providers – access to their own workspace in the EHR tailored to their needs can ensure providers have all the tools available in one place to simplify daily tasks.

Adopt autonomous processes.

Despite a fear that automation may be more time-consuming or challenging to implement, these processes can help reduce time spent on basic administrative tasks, which improves coding accuracy and cash flow while increasing the time providers have to focus more on patient care.

When implementing autonomous processes, it’s important to fully understand the current system and determine the best ways to integrate it with existing processes. And there must be flexibility in the processes to grow and evolve with the organization.

Once implemented, be sure to fully train staff on the changes. To ensure broad adoption, focus training on how the tools and processes will help make their daily lives easier.

Ensure help is available whenever needed.

One of the biggest sources of user frustration with new technology is not being able to get questions answered at the time a problem arises. Working with the right partner who can provide ongoing support and optimization of technology can help alleviate support issues.

Having service desk solutions available, or implementing virtual assistants or chatbots, can also help providers without wasting their valuable time.

Using data analytics to address burnout

Even with more automation, training and ongoing support, providers may still experience frustrations with the increasing use of technology in their practice. But new capabilities like data analytics can further help.

Using data analytics generated from the technology implemented in the practice in an organized and frequent manner can provide insights into which end users may be frustrated with the systems or identify where pain points exist in the workflow.

Organizations can use this data to address the critical pain points, which then improves adoption and user satisfaction with the EHR and new processes, counteracting burnout before it begins to flare. The insights gathered also can guide systemwide decisions that will help streamline work providers and improve the patient experience.

There’s no question that provider burnout is a serious problem, with a growing number of sources fanning the flames. If not addressed, the healthcare sector could face more providers leaving the workforce, adversely impacting patient care and outcomes.

Even though some factors are out of their control, practices can take steps to minimize burnout within their own organization.

Understanding provider workflows, adopting autonomous processes to eliminate tedious manual tasks, and using data analytics to take the pulse of providers can go a long way to eliminating the frustrations that have made providers consider leaving a profession they’ve dedicated their lives to.

Jodie Hilliker is the senior director of EHR and managed services at DeliverHealth, a global provider of technology-enabled solutions for hospitals, health systems and group practices.

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