- Burnout is an ongoing issue in clinical spaces and can lead to severe patient and hospital crises.
- Seemingly minor issues in clinical technology can build up frustrations amongst clinicians.
- When clinician-facing applications are improved, often wasted time is gained back, and unnecessary hindrances to patient care are addressed
Hospitals can only work as well as their clinical staff’s mental health. When a physician or a nurse feels overworked, without support from their hospital, it’s easy for their mental health to suffer and possibly lead to burnout.
Burnout is not a new issue in the medical field, but it is exasperated by COVID-19. In 2020, the AMA surveyed 20,947 physicians and clinical care workers. Their findings revealed that “38% self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression. Another 43% suffered from work overload, and 49% had burnout.”
Burnout is more than frustration or even feeling worn down by work in the medical field. An article in the Local Reg. Anesth journal defines burnout as having three parts — emotional exhaustion, cynicism and depersonalization, and reduced professional efficacy and personal accomplishment. The journal shares the risk to clinicians’ mental health is vast, but so is the risk to patients and hospitals as a whole. There are “important professional consequences such as lower patient satisfaction, impaired quality of care, even up to medical errors, potentially ending up in malpractice suits with substantial costs for caregivers and hospitals.”
So how can hospital executives prevent this potentially fatal level of fatigue before it starts?
Jose Barreau, Co-Founder and CEO of Halo Health, appeared on a panel for healthsystemCIO.com to discuss clinician-facing applications and their potential impact in fighting burnout. Jose appeared with Shafiq Rab, Chief Digital Officer and CIO of Wellforce, and Peter Canning, Medical Director of Informatics at Asante Health Systems. The three shared their insights into how CIOs can improve the lives of their clinicians.
When asked the leading causes of IT-related burnout, all three agreed that wasted time is the common denominator. Rab noted that the revenue cycle plays a critical role in burnout when you have to do extra or duplicate work to maintain it. “Many providers are spending twice as much time in front of a computer as they are face-to-face with patients,” explains Canning. “As a provider, we are trained to take care of patients, so it’s a huge source of frustration and frankly burnout.”
Dr. Barreau went on to share his insights, focusing on clinical communication systems. “There are two issues around IT-related clinician burnout,” he says. “There is a lot of time spent searching for information that should be at your fingertips but isn’t. Also, a lot of time, doctors and nurses are interrupted when they don’t need to be.” The frustration from these seemingly minor interruptions can quickly balloon into department-wide frustration.
The three industry experts were also asked a keystone question; How can CIOs find out if burnout around tech is happening in their organizations?
For Dr. Barreau, the answer is actually how the Halo Health Platform was created. As an oncologist, he recalls needing to start one of his patients on chemo but could not find the right person he needed in their clinical communication system. Because locating the right person took more time than it should have, other patients were left waiting, causing the entire day to be negatively affected.
If CIOs want to know if tech is the cause of burnout at their organization, all they need to do is walk the floor, says Barreau. CIOs need to take the time to ask nurses and physicians about pain points in their technology and note any alert fatigue they see.
“You spend 5 minutes with them, and you know where the pain is coming from,” says Barreau. Meanwhile, Rab discusses the importance of burnout being addressed through leadership steps like hiring a chief wellness officer — a role that is becoming increasingly common.
“Great leadership goes a long way in solving these problems,” adds Barreau. “When teams feel like leadership is listening, it goes a long way to help burn out… Many things are going on in the health system that cause burnout, but addressing them system-wide and building a plan of attack can only be done by great leaders. That is how this is going to be solved.”