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Technology can help clinicians, but beware of ‘shiny object syndrome’

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Ann Cappellari of SSM Health says providers must find ways to reduce burdens on staff. But it’s vital to identify key problems before adopting new solutions.

When assessing the leading cause of stress on clinicians, Ann Cappellari says it’s pretty simple to see.

“It is documentation, documentation, and documentation,” she says.

Image: Ron Southwick, Chief Healthcare Executive

Ann Cappellari, the chief medical information officer of SSM Health, talks at the HIMSS Conference in Orlando last week.

Cappellari is the chief medical information officer of SSM Health, a system which serves patients in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Cappellari talked about some of SSM Health’s work to reduce stress and burnout among doctors and nurses during a presentation at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition.

Health systems need to find ways to reduce the stress and burnout of their staff. Cappellari noted that the Surgeon General issued an advisory on burnout in the healthcare workforce in 2022, and suggested reducing bureaucratic burdens as an important step. Doctors often point to administrative chores as their primary point of stress, including in a Medscape survey released in January.

“Every hour of patient care, you're spending two hours in the E.H.R.,” Cappellari said. “Nursing is spending 41% of their time, and that's ridiculous. That's laughably ridiculous.”

Healthcare organizations should look for tools to help reduce headaches for clinicians.

But they should also be wary of “shiny object syndrome,” Cappellari said.

“We have to take care that we have a strategy that is applying to a problem, not just a cool thing everyone says they want, so you just roll it out without a lot of thought,” she said.

At SSM Health, the system is looking at ways to use technology to lighten the load on staff.

“When we look just at strategy in general, we look at how we should have a foundational standard that everyone who walks in the door should have access,” Cappellari said. “Money is not unlimited. So, we have to be smart about how we use our resources. And then when we try and do things, we want to do it correctly and be sure we are meeting some goals to say it is effective, and not just throw a blanket over and kind of walk away.”

Since 2020, SSM has been using ambient documentation, which utilizes AI to not only record doctor-patient conversations but also to produced clinical notes. The system is expanding its use of ambient documentation.

As Cappellari noted, many think ambient documentation with AI is “rainbows and unicorns.” But for those beginning the shift to using such tools, she acknowledged there can be growing pains with some clinicians.

“When you get technology creating things for you, it won't be exactly as you created it for yourself,” she said, and noted that some may not love it.

Cappellari also noted that more providers are using auto-generated inbox messaging, which offers replies to patient questions. Some patients can be initially taken aback, since the messages and their tone may be different from what they are accustomed to from their clinician.

Generally speaking, she noted, “With some of these technologies, our patients are much earlier acceptors and adapters and our clinicians.”

Cappellari said that a key element in implementing a new technology initiative successfully is building enthusiasm and beginning with those most interested in the new tools.

“In our most successful initiatives, in technology … or workflow or anything, is when someone really wants it, is dedicated to it, believes in it, and you can go along with them,” she said.

Hospitals and other providers can find the tools that are most suited to them, but Cappellari urged the audience to be willing to try different tools that can take some of the headache off of their clinicians.

“In my opinion, the only wrong is doing nothing, because that will just leave you further and further behind every year,” she said.

She also recalled the words of Hippocrates, who said, “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”

“I think we have come a little too far away from this art of medicine and this idea of healing,” Cappellari said. “And we're so tagged with some of these burnout items, administrative items, that it would be nice if we could use this technology now to bring the humanity back.”

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