Sometimes, a high number is a good thing. Take, for example, a test score or an IQ. Other times, it can spell trouble. A prime example of this is the United States’ current consumer price index (CPI), a measure of inflation. The CPI is at its highest level in almost forty years, and consumers are feeling the financial pinch.
The healthcare industry also has experienced some unprecedentedly high numbers recently, but as in the case of the U.S. economy, it means there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. We’re talking about physician burnout, an issue plaguing the healthcare industry long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burnout is a psychological syndrome characterized by exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced professional efficacy. It has been linked to physicians losing a sense of control over their own practice, weakened connections with patients and colleagues, a work-life imbalance and uncontrolled stress.
The consequences of physician burnout extend far beyond doctors’ well-being. Along with being associated with worse quality of patient care, ramifications of physician burnout include higher rates of physician turnover, more frequent medical errors and lower patient satisfaction. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), physician burnout costs the U.S. an estimated $4.6 billion annually. That figure doesn’t include the $260 million attributable to physician burnout-related turnover.
Anxiety, Depression and Emotional Exhaustion from COVID-19 and Burnout
During the pandemic, many healthcare professionals, including physicians, were faced with additional work challenges, from increased exposure to COVID-19 to financial strains on their practice. More than half of public health workers in this country have reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression and increased levels of post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost 40 percent of physicians felt that the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a toll on their ability to cope with their profession.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be transitioning into a more controllable epidemic, physicians and other healthcare workers continue to experience burnout at unprecedented levels. The 2022 Medscape poll found a five-percentage point increase in burnout overall, with the nation’s most burned-out physicians in emergency medicine and critical care. Similar results were noted in the AMA’s 2022 National Burnout Benchmarking report, with more than half of respondents saying they were experiencing burnout.
Unfortunately, the healthcare worker shortage also was exacerbated by the pandemic — the industry lost an estimated 20 percent of its workforce over the past two years, including 30 percent of nurses. Dubbed the “Great Resignation,” it highlights the fact that almost 25 percent of physicians are more likely to leave their practice in the next two years, including 11,339 primary care doctors.
In addition to the direct costs of turnover within a practice, each instance of a primary care physician leaving his or her current practice results in $86,336 in excess healthcare expenditures related to the care of the exiting provider’s patient panel during the following year. Additionally, this drove of clinician exits adds to the already high level of burnout in doctors and nurses. Another consequence? Physicians experiencing burnout are more likely to leave the profession, negatively affecting some patients’ access to and continuity of care.
Improving Patient Care While Reducing Administrative Burdens
Even without the COVID-19 pandemic and the healthcare staffing shortage, physicians deal with another sizable stressor: too many bureaucratic and administrative tasks. Most doctors spend an average of 13.5 hours per week on tasks other than direct patient care, not only adding to burnout but also adding to already high U.S. healthcare costs.
With these issues being forefront in mainstream media coverage of the healthcare industry, you would think that most hospitals, health systems and other physician employers would be developing and implementing solutions to address them. You’d be wrong. Only 29 percent of physicians surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that their practice is set up to minimize their administrative burden.
There isn’t a single solution that will eradicate physician burnout, but a combination of efforts can be utilized to decrease its prominence, some of which include organization-directed interventions, flexibility and modifications in scheduling, increased colleague support, mental health treatment focus and availability. Another facet in mitigating burnout among clinicians is reducing the multitude of administrative burdens.
Various technologies designed for the healthcare industry can play a role in lessening these administrative burdens while also reducing unnecessary expenditures. In his recently-published advisory, “Addressing Health Worker Burnout: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce,” new U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy MD, MBA offered recommendations for a wide variety of healthcare entities to use in addressing burnout among healthcare professionals. As it relates to technology, the recommendations include:
- Ensuring health information technology that is human-centered, interoperable and equitable
- Optimizing technology to increase time spent between health workers and patients
- Leveraging technology to streamline administrative requirements
- Designing technology to serve the needs of health workers, care teams and patients across the continuum of care
- Ensuring that patient-generated data is accessible in a meaningful way and does not result in increased burdens on health workers
When healthcare technology is designed with the user in mind, whether it be a doctor, nurse or medical assistant, it can not only reduce administrative burdens but also improve patient outcomes, boost efficiency and productivity, increase patient engagement and encourage patients to actively participate in shared decision-making. As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) notes, other benefits of health information technology include its ability to store and retrieve data, the ability to rapidly communicate patient information in a legible format, improved medication safety through increased legibility to decrease the risk of medication errors and the ease of retrieval of patient information.
Technology to Address Physician Burnout
At Providertech, our suite of HIPAA-compliant solutions enables healthcare provider organizations of all sizes, including Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), to streamline administrative tasks. For example, our two-way text messaging solution, CareMessenger, increases operational efficiency while optimizing patient care. Likewise, CareTest securely automates HIPAA-compliant test result delivery to reduce unnecessary office visits, streamline virtual follow-up after results delivery and promote real-time patient engagement.