Why this communication tool is the key to reducing tech-fueled burnout


Burnout has become increasingly common among healthcare provider teams and can be experienced by everyone from physicians, physician's assistants, nurse practitioners and nurses to therapists, case managers and social workers. The term can be defined as a "syndrome of emotional exhaustion, de-personalization and decreased sense of accomplishment at work," according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

While technology may have played a role in the increased rate of clinicians feeling overwhelmed and fatigued, it may also serve as a means of quelling the burnout epidemic.

During an Aug. 8 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Spok, Teresa Niblett, clinical informatics director at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., discussed key findings from Spok's 2019 clinician burnout survey and shared insights into how PRMC uses technology to improve clinical workflows and decrease burnout. 

How clinicians feel about burnout

For its burnout report, Spok conducted a survey of U.S. healthcare organizations in April to assess clinicians' perception of burnout and determine what solutions are helping to address the issue. More than 400 clinicians participated in the survey. Forty percent of respondents were physicians, 38 percent were nurses, 5 percent were clinical leaders and 17 percent held other clinical roles.

Nearly all survey participants (92 percent) referred to burnout as "a public health crisis that demands urgent action." Most respondents (70 percent) reported experiencing at least some symptoms of burnout themselves.

Despite a large percentage of clinicians experiencing burnout at their respective institutions, nearly half (47 percent) of participants said they "rarely or never" discuss burnout at their organizations, followed by 26 percent of respondents who "occasionally" discuss the issue and 27 percent who "often" or "always" discuss the problem.

Technology and EHRs as contributing factors 

The survey identified technology as a driver of burnout, with 90 percent of participants attesting that increased or ineffective technology contributes to the issue. This happens in various ways, including burdensome or increased workload (cited by 89 percent of respondents), poor integration into clinical workflow (77 percent), poor implementation (61 percent) and poor adoption (45 percent).

Making improvements to EHR systems, specifically, has been identified as a way to reduce clinician burnout, according to Boston-based Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's paper "A crisis in health care: A call to action on physician burnout." The paper calls to improve interoperability, reform certification standards, increase physician engagement and reduce documentation requirements, Ms. Niblett said.

When asked about their confidence in these EHR improvements, 95 percent of Spok survey participants said they agreed that improving EHR usability would be at least somewhat helpful in mitigating the risk of burnout. Other possible solutions cited by participants included support of mental health treatments (cited by 87 percent of respondents) and the appointment of an executive-level chief wellness officer (72 percent).

How PRMC combats burnout

One way PRMC has worked to decrease clinician burnout is by improving internal communications and streamlining workflows. The 289-bed acute care hospital, which implemented a systemwide Epic EHR in November 2016, has been a Spok customer for more than 20 years. Last year, PRMC formed an innovation partnership with the communication platform vendor that allows its clinicians to offer insights and be more involved in the health system's technology design processes.

PRMC uses Spok's care connect platform, which combines the health system's contact center centralized integrated directory system with its scheduling alarm management secure messaging network to support multimodal paging and real-time communication among all individuals involved in a patient's care. 

"A robust and fully integrated healthcare communication platform fills the communication and collaboration gaps in the EHR by connecting care teams and systems to improve workflows and deliver information quickly and securely into the hands of those who need to act on it," Ms. Niblett said.

PRMC's communication platform has increased staff satisfaction and improved care. The hospital decreased its code blue rate by 70 percent after implementing the Spok Care Connect EHR integration, which helps care teams intervene sooner by notifying them of potential patient deterioration. 

To access the full webinar, click here.

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