Burnout – Not just a physician issue. How technology can alleviate staff burnout

For some, the term “burnout” might be the latest buzzword but, when it comes to healthcare – it’s a significant problem.

And, it’s one that doesn’t just impact physicians but nurses and administrative staff too. A study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine reports that nearly 50% of nurse care managers and 36% of front office staff feel burned out.

Physicians work long hours to care for a growing number of patients yet compliance requirements are expanding the time they must spend on non-clinical paperwork. Meanwhile, nursing and office staff are often left to juggle tasks with inefficient and inoperable systems that zap productivity through complicated, redundant processes that require logging in and out of multiple systems.

These administrative burdens not only diminish patient care but are a growing source of frustration that entice many to leave the industry. All of this comes at a time when patients are demanding more consumer-friendly services and conveniences from providers as business owners.

While practices may not be able to control all sources of burnout, they can start by addressing many of these administrative pains by making communications easier, improving workflows, reducing administrative headaches and providing a more efficient, unified way to work.

Too Many Manual Tasks, Too Little Time

Burnout is not a pain felt solely by physicians. A 2017 Harris Poll study showed that 70 percent of nurses surveyed reported feeling burnout in their current roles. The most commonly-cited reason for nurses and on-the-job stress was teamwork, or lack thereof, as defined by “poor communication, tension and conflict, no cooperation.”

Nurses and medical office staff also face job frustration, multitasking, repetitive work and poor work-life balance. The addition of demanding hours, pressures from patients and colleagues, and no-shows can add to the challenges. The nursing shortage continues to grow and that further complicates an already over-worked and overwrought healthcare system that frustrates providers, staff and patients.

While one might think advances in technology and electronic health records would have made things easier, they haven’t. Compliance and documentation requirements are growing faster than most practices can keep pace. New government regulations and bureaucratic burdens are costing staff time, increasing paperwork and adding to the calls, emails and faxes that must be made. Every form, document, lab result and test result now needs physician reviews and signatures. In addition, consolidation in the industry is forcing many practices to conform to new systems and policies.

Healthcare providers and staff need solutions to reduce their administrative workloads – and they need them STAT.

How Less Technology Can Limit the Burn

Rather than causing more headaches, technology can actually – when carefully selected and used correctly, solve healthcare burnout by reducing administrative frustrations and workflow issues. What if, ironically, technology was actually the solution that got us away from computers and back to direct interaction with patients? What if the answer wasn’t more technology but less? All too often, providers are using a patchwork of technology point solutions that serve single tasks. The problem is that these may not be designed to work together.

Practices might have one vendor for appointments, one for billing, one for internal communications and yet another for patient engagement. Combined, these solutions eat away at productivity and overhead costs.

When evaluating new solutions, it is vital practices consider whether the technology will complicate or simplify their daily tasks. Slight efficiency improvements in daily workflows can cumulatively make a big impact in reducing stressors.

Consider three ways better integration of technology and communications can reduce paper shuffling, eliminate redundancies and make it easier for physicians and staff to communicate – lessening some of the underlying sources of burnout.

1. Unify Communications Into a Single Collaboration Hub

Performing administrative tasks more efficiently can go a long way in reducing stress. A universal inbox or dashboard where all communications centrally arrive in one place can support back and forth communication required with new reporting standards. This enables practice staff greater visibility to take control of more administrative tasks that often bog down physicians, giving them more time to spend on patient care and high-value tasks.

A universal collaboration hub with electronic fax and document management can also help reduce communication redundancies. Whereas manual processes of constant scanning and faxing are expensive, time-consuming and frustrating, new solutions enable staff to more easily review, split and combine pages in significantly less time.

2. Eliminate Phone Tag with Secure Text Messaging Reduce No-Shows and Manual Labor with Automated Messaging

Research shows, on average, it takes three phone calls to connect with a patient to tell them their lab result is normal. It’s not information that can be left on a voice mail. Practice staff must call the patient, leave a message, wait for a call back, be on the phone when that happens, call the patient again to deliver the result and the process repeats. No one likes phone tag – it’s costly and inefficient.

With a secure text solution, the practice can easily send one text message to the patient that links them to a verification page (not an app that needs downloaded) and, once the patient enters a birthdate, receives their normal lab result. That can happen in under one minute – compared with over an hour on the phone leaving and retrieving messages. Patients are happier by getting their results quickly, staff aren’t waiting on the phone and can focus on higher-value tasks. It’s a win-win for all.

3. Manage Referral Documents and Home Health Orders More Efficiently

Patients increasingly have several specialists who need to coordinate care, yet information can get left out in transit as providers struggle with administrative or technological challenges. Between home health referrals, durable medical equipment (DME) orders and prior authorizations – coordinating approvals, sign-offs, record updates and orders – managing referrals is a time-consuming process for all. Not to mention the headaches of frustrated patients when equipment does arrive or insurance says it didn’t receive any prior authorization paperwork. The frustration they feel usually comes back on practice staff to manage.

Moving to a single collaboration and communications platform that integrates and builds on top of providers’ EHR systems can streamline this process. Imagine one place where physicians can place a home health referral, order DME, submit paperwork to a payer for approval and file a record of all of it to the patient’s chart – all electronically without ever touching a piece of paper. That’s efficiency – that’s the benefit of what the right technology can offer physicians, nurses and administrative staff.

That is the future of healthcare. One that is both more automated and more personalized, leading to better outcomes and fewer frustrations.

Physicians and staff are frustrated because existing technologies have added additional complexities to their workloads while reducing their time spent with patients. The first step is acknowledging this problem but not losing sight of solutions as well.

It’s time to stop talking about healthcare burnout and start healing it – for the sake of physicians, staff and patients. Just as it can be challenging for physicians to get patients to adhere to their care – the same is true for healthcare providers themselves. It’s a case of “Provider – heal thyself” and the treatment might very well lie in technology that can simplify daily tasks, automate time-consuming manual work, support collaboration and improve workflows to, ultimately, heal burnout and healthcare across the board.

About the Author: Michael Morgan, CEO of Updox

With a successful track record in helping organizations use technology to transform the way care is delivered, Mike has more than 25 years of healthcare experience leadership within software, behavioral health and HIT organizations. Updox was named the Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past four consecutive years.

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