An important issue receiving press coverage lately is burnout with healthcare clinicians and support staff. Burnout is a chronic condition caused by work-related stress and frustration, and, unfortunately, it has been aggravated by the unanticipated demands of the global pandemic.
What is the cost of burnout? It’s estimated to add $125-190B a year to healthcare costs. Stress on the job accounts for 8% of total national healthcare expenditure. Frustrated employees disengage from work, costing healthcare organizations about 34% of their salaries in lost productivity, higher absenteeism, and lower profitability. Burnout contributes to a hefty 20-50% employer turnover rate. In some studies, more than 50% of clinicians are impacted—an increase of 10% since 2011.
Physicians point to time pressure, chaotic environments, minimal control over the pace of work, and lack of organizational support as contributing to their colleagues’ burnout. Burnout leads to emotional exhaustion, a feeling of lack of control and/or achievement, poor patient interactions, impaired performance at work that can jeopardize patient safety and care quality, family stress at home, abandoning the profession, and ultimately, physician suicide in extreme cases.
One study of primary care physicians found that the electronic health record (EHR) holds some of the blame for job stress and burnout. Medical interns today spend only 12% of their time on direct patient care vs. 40% on computer use. Yet, studies have shown increasing clinician dissatisfaction with the workload associated with EHRs. Clinicians must cope with growing amounts of data they must assimilate to make a decision (for example, data from new research, and changing reimbursement rules and regulations), while not being given more time to do their job.
When asked about burnout caused by technological factors, clinicians ranked excessive data entry as the top challenge (88%), followed by difficulties in accessing data from other institutions (85%), notes used for billing (78%), excessive notes (77%), work-life balance (64%), posture (53%), and pain due to computer use (48.7%).
How does an organization begin to reverse burnout?
Physician and nurse wellness and resilience programs have become common as studies have confirmed their emotional benefits. Yet, these interventions fail to eliminate the continuing needs for manual data entry and external data access, the two top-ranked technology factors behind burnout.
Fortunately, technology can be harnessed to address these issues. Today, many data entry and access tasks can be partly or fully automated, taking them off the over-stressed healthcare worker’s plate. Intelligent automation software bots incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as natural language processing (NLS) and machine learning (ML) to do what machines do best—perform tedious, boring tasks efficiently, quickly, and accurately. Of course, this lets healthcare workers do what they do best: care for patients, weigh trade-offs, make complex decisions, and solve problems creatively.
Here are tasks that can be automated:
- Discover and define a process by observing user actions
- Perform data entry, retrieval, and transfer with websites, spreadsheets, and databases
- Integrate and interoperate between incompatible systems
- Trigger actions based on data and business rules
- Hide complex process automations behind a simple interface
- Analyze data to populate dashboards and generate reports
- Help enforce safety, quality, regulatory, and security protocols
- Monitor and generate granular audit trails on demand
- Develop AI-powered intelligent learning workflows
To achieve long-term sustainability, healthcare organizations must begin to automate their repetitive, rules-driven, burnout-inducing tasks. Highly trained, expensive healthcare workers are best utilized when practicing at the top of their licenses, delivering higher value to their patients and employers while experiencing greater job satisfaction and meaning. Indeed, automation may facilitate new kinds of jobs as healthcare employees move from carrying out tasks to managing tasks carried out by bots.