Patients put their trust in healthcare professionals to help them identify a diagnosis, obtain a treatment, and simply get well again every single day. But what happens when doctors and nurses don’t have the time or energy they need to adequately serve their patients?
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports that 54% of U.S. doctors and nurses “experience substantial symptoms of burnout.” Here are a few reasons why this happens, and a few ways we can solve the problem.
Contributing Factors to Clinician Burnout
Clinician and physician burnout has little to do with patient care and everything to do with tedious documentation. Saxony Partners’ Yasir Bashir explained that patients can observe the effects of multitasking on doctors even during a routine visit for a cold or a check-up.
“If you go to a physician’s office, you will notice that while you are talking to your physician, he is simultaneously entering your information into the system,” Yasir said. “Before that even happens, he must click through multiple screens to find the correct place to add the information. It’s not just the sheer amount of work, it’s also the fact that they are multitasking. It is mentally draining to listen carefully to your patient while also carefully making sure you enter all of the pertinent information into the system correctly.”
Saxony's Eric Hilton agreed. The crux of the problem, Hilton said, is that clinicians can’t do the job they were trained to do because they must spend so much valuable time on documentation.
“Clinicians went to school to practice medicine,” Hilton said. “Not to be accountants, data entry specialists, business owners, or technologists. Some are good at those activities as well. But I see a lot of burnout coming from clinicians entering in data, re-entering data, and still not being able to get paid for their work.
“They want to help people but spend a ton of mental energy and time dealing with data entry, poorly designed software, and poor business processes.”
Electronic Medical Records
One of the biggest changes within healthcare organizations over the last decade is the country-wide adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs). While cataloguing patients’ medical histories digitally is a worthy goal, the benefits can be mitigated if the implementation process is clunky.
Hilton notes that practitioners used to use their own systems for record keeping, but new regulations have required digitization of and improved access to medical records. But new technology doesn’t always lead to better outcomes – and not all of the resulting EMR implementations have worked out in those practitioner’s favor.
A poorly designed or poorly implemented EMR could literally be life-threatening.
“These systems weren't designed with basic software principles like user experience, business processes, and workflow in mind,” Hilton said. For clinicians who may not be digital natives or particularly savvy when it comes to new technology, EMRs can cost them valuable time, rather than save it. It’s another contributing factor to burnout.
Impacts of Clinician Burnout
While documentation responsibilities can be frustrating and exhausting to clinicians on a daily basis, they can also occasionally lead to even more serious problems. Clinician burnout dramatically increases the risk for malpractice.
“It all comes back to correctly capturing the diagnosis,” Yasir said. “Many illnesses have similar symptoms with minor differences, but some are more life-threatening than others. If you are burnt out and unable to focus, you might misdiagnose a patient. This can ultimately cause malpractice or even death.
“On the pharmaceutical side, if you accidentally over-prescribe medication that can cause huge problems. The risk is that if you are burnt out, you might order the wrong prescription.”
Even if a clinician’s mistake isn’t a deadly one, it can still prolong the healing process unnecessarily.
“If you don’t treat your patient correctly or make the wrong decision about when your patient should be discharged, your patient could have to face readmission later,” Yasir said. “Readmission costs are not always covered by insurance, and that means practices must eat the costs.”
Strictly from a business perspective, burnout increases the likelihood that patients will be dissatisfied with the service they receive and will take their medical concerns elsewhere. Even if physicians diagnose and treat their patients correctly, they retain less time and energy for human connection in their conversations with patients. Situations like these directly contribute to patient leakage.
“In a way, patients are like customers because they have options when seeking healthcare providers,” Yasir said. “If you don’t take care of your customers, then they will leave. When you are burnt out, the quality of your interactions with a patient is worse.”
AI Solutions to Clinician Burnout
While EMRs certainly aren’t going anywhere, clinicians don’t have to accept the inevitability of burnout. Artificial intelligence has developed capabilities to assist with all of the most draining menial tasks so doctors and nurses can go back to doing what they love: taking care of people.
Alan Stein, a Vice President at Saxony, explained why he wholeheartedly believes healthcare organizations should utilized AI to its full potential.
According to Stein, here are some tasks clinicians can automate:
Data Entry: Probably the biggest contributing factor to burnout, data entry requires dozens of unnecessary clicks that waste physicians’ time. AI can simplify the data-entry process to make EMR more accurate and less time-consuming.
“AI is very good at getting clinicians hands off the keyboards,” Stein said. “When physicians have so many small tasks to complete, it takes away from the care they are able to provide the patients. AI allows patient information to be automatically entered into the system to reduce the time-consuming hunting and searching.”
Scheduling: Nurses who are responsible for reception within a practice can maximize their time and focus by relying on automated scheduling tools. This helps to ensure that the right number of patients are booked each day.
“There are several AI solutions out there right now that automate scheduling and help practices to book appointments more efficiently, Stein said. “This reduces burnout for the care team handling the front office and allows them to focus their time on more meaningful tasks.”
Prescriptions: AI can also reduce the risk of dangerous mistakes and malpractice. When a doctor or nurse prescribes a medication for a patient, the software will identify any problems with the patient’s health records. This is a critical for patients with allergies or who could be at risk for conflicting medications.
“AI is able to analyze the system in real-time based on a patient’s CPT code and diagnosis,” Stein said. “If a nurse were to click on the wrong prescription for a patient, the AI software will prompt them to review their selection.”
Transitioning to Value-Based Care
As the healthcare industry evolves, the ultimate goal is always to improve the quality of care for patients. The shift from volume-based care to value-based care is hindered by the documentation processes that cause burnout. But by turning to automation solutions for help, clinicians can combat this problem.
“For every one minute spent with a patient, physicians spend two minutes on documentation,” Stein said. “It often takes 60 hours per week to keep up with the documentation alone. Clinicians went to school to see patients, not to do data entry. AI allows clinicians to focus more on their patients because so many of their daily tasks are automated. This helps patients feel less like customers, because clinicians can spend more time with them one-on-one. Higher patient satisfaction helps practices shift from volume-based care to value-based care.”
How to Combat Clinician Burnout
If your healthcare organization is suffering from the clinician burnout epidemic, Saxony Partners can help. Our healthcare practice uses automation to help clients embrace value-based care every day.
“With Saxony Partners’ expertise in artificial intelligence, we are able to help the healthcare community reduce the number of clicks that takeaway from time spent with patients and to achieve quality results that improve value-based care,” Stein said.
Hilton said the Saxony Partners team can help healthcare organizations to streamline business processes, increase system interoperability, improve insights and collection accuracy, create AI/machine learning tools to help reduce overhead, and simply create more usable software for providers.
“All of this can reduce burden on providers and hopefully increase their ability to spend more time helping people and less time doing things they never intended,” Hilton said.
In working with healthcare organizations to identify burnout culprits and address them, Hilton hopes Saxony Partners can make a positive impact on the industry.
“This is a big and real issue,” Hilton said. “Burnout is happening. You can see it on the faces of the practitioners. This leads to resentment, and then can be pushed to fraud, waste, and or abuse. It is important that solutions are found to make the industry that keeps people alive, a reasonable one to be in.”