Care Management Tools Can Mitigate Clinician Burnout
Although technology alone can’t solve clinician burnout, it can provide the means for organizations to provide better care while increasing efficiency and alleviating stress.
Findings from an American Medical Association (AMA) national survey of nearly 21,000 health care professionals show that nearly half (49%) reported at least 1 symptom of burnout, and 43% said they suffered from work overload.1
The costs of clinician burnout are steep; a 2019 study estimated that physician burnout costs the US health care industry $4.6 billion annually, mostly through clinician turnover and a reduction of clinical hours.2
Subsequently, there are personal and professional costs. Clinicians with burnout may exhibit multiple symptoms, including low energy, exhaustion, compassion fatigue, insomnia, irritability, alcohol and drug abuse, and a lack of purpose in their jobs.3 Clinician burnout also can affect quality of care because physicians under physical and emotional duress are more prone to making mistakes, leading to poorer outcomes and increasing the risk of malpractice exposure.
The time crunch resulting from high patient demand for services and a severe shortage of clinical professionals is also of concern, neither of which shows signs of abating soon. Data from a study from the early 2000s showed that the average patient visit with a primary care clinician lasted just over 15 minutes and often covered up to a half-dozen health issues.4 Worse, clinicians may spend large chunks of that valuable time attempting to find or enter data on a digital screen.
Today, clinicians are trying to implement new models of digital care delivery during a once-in-a-century pandemic. Clinicians and care managers are overburdened with data, alert fatigue, and Best Practice Advisories that, in an effort to streamline care management, only make their work more difficult. Often they lack the basic clinical supplies and resources necessary to safely do their jobs. Furthermore, the trauma of working through the fear surrounding COVID-19 leaves little wonder as to why nurses are leaving their careers and years of training at alarming rates as they respond to mentally and physically draining shifts and unsafe patient loads.
To add to the disruption, other clinicians are quitting their jobs in opposition to vaccine mandates by their states or employers. Health care organizations are struggling with chronic staffing shortages that limit how many patients can be seen and the quality of care that can be delivered. Ironically, staffing shortages can lead to increased spending because a hospital or health system might hire nurses on a contract basis at a higher rate than they would pay a full-time nurse.
On the patient side, staffing shortages will inevitably affect not only the quality of care they receive, but whether they receive care at all. This is particularly so for patients with debilitating but not fatal conditions, such as deteriorating joints or other conditions requiring elective procedures. Care will always be provided for the most urgent cases, such as patients in an intensive care unit (ICU), but a woman who needs a knee replacement may not be able to schedule her procedure because clinicians are being redeployed to higher-priority patients. These are both medical and quality-of-life issues, the latter yet another cost of clinician burnout and staffing shortages.
There is no magic bullet for reducing clinician burnout; rather, targeted solutions can be applied to each of the major causes. On the most basic level, giving clinicians the supplies and resources they need to effectively (and safely) provide care helps them to better manage the stress of their jobs. Health care organizations should communicate with clinicians to determine where there are supply and resource shortages and take steps to eliminate them. A review of the supply chain and inventory supply could also result in opportunities for cost savings.
Reasonable patient loads would also go a long way toward easing clinician burnout. However, given the demand for care, shortage of clinical staff, and ongoing impact of the pandemic, clinicians aren’t likely to see relief in the form of full staffing levels any time soon.
Fortunately, the right technology can address this major cause of burnout by making it far easier for clinicians to access the right patient data before and during an encounter, during which every minute is valuable. A technology platform that streamlines and organizes data for clinicians at the point of care also helps provider organizations offset the burden of staff shortages by dramatically increasing efficiency. Additionally, a platform with analytics capabilities supports care coordination and ensures that clinicians can track the most at-risk patients and provide outreach support if necessary. This type of preventive approach can help health care organizations avoid unnecessary costs and improve patient outcomes. Analytics-based prevention is especially valuable in cases where patients may be nonadherent with medication. Identifying and proactively reaching out to those patients can help counter possible adverse health events and prevent future unnecessary costs.
A fully integrated care management platform can enable care managers to coordinate care and easily access relevant, actionable, and organized patient data when it is needed, promoting fast, evidence-based action at the point of care. Although technology alone can’t solve clinician burnout, it can provide the means for organizations to provide better care while increasing efficiency and alleviating stress. A comprehensive approach employing technology solutions, better resource allocation, and direct feedback from clinicians will be key to easing burnout across the industry.
- Prasad K, McLoughlin C, Stillman M, et al. Prevalence and correlates of stress and burnout among US healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: a national cross-sectional survey study. EClinicalMedicine. 2021;35:100879. doi:10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.100879
- Blanding M. The economic cost of physician burnout. Harvard Business School. September 25, 2019. Accessed December 9, 2021. https://hbs.me/3lQISOa
- Drummond D. Physician burnout: its origin, symptoms, and five main causes. Fam Pract Manag. 2015;22(5):42-47.
- Mechanic D, McAlpine DD, Rosenthal M. Are patients’ office visits with physicians getting shorter? N Engl J Med. 2001;344(3):198-204. doi:10.1056/NEJM200101183440307