How Can We Reduce Clinician Burnout? Improving Patient and Caregiver Engagement

Carina Edwards, CEO of Quil Health

Even as we (hopefully) approach the tail-end of the latest COVID-19 wave, one growing healthcare challenge continues to worsen: clinician burnout. Nurses, physicians, schedulers, and other members of care-provider teams continue to post rising rates of burnout. They’re feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated due to factors such as hectic workplaces and schedules, extended workloads, and excessive administrative tasks. This is an alarming trend that the entire healthcare industry needs to be concerned about.

Clearly, we’re not effectively combating the stress placed on clinicians since COVID-19 appeared. Nurses, physicians, and their supporting care teams simply have too many bureaucratic chores and too little time. Indeed, 60% of physicians participating in a recent survey by Medscape cited bureaucratic and administrative tasks as the number one factor contributing to their burnout. Another 31% of nurses have reported burnout as the main reason for leaving their jobs.  

Administrative tasks are not the only factor causing clinician burnout. Many clinicians cite the increasing computerization of the medical practice (for example, the utilization of EHRs) as a leading contributor to their burnout. For companies providing healthcare IT solutions, this one might cause some head-scratching. Aren’t digital tools supposed to help doctors and clinical staff, rather than burden them with additional work? 

It seems counterintuitive, but the unfortunate reality is that digital tools can cause inefficiency. The process of transitioning to new digital systems or tools can impose heavy burdens on clinicians and requires simplicity and strategies for change management. Healthcare has a reputation for throwing technology tools at institutional problems without designing the solutions to assist both patient and the team providing care.

This shouldn’t be the case. Digital systems, workflow redesign and a focus on better activating patients and the family members who support them in their care, are a big part of the solution.  When done well, they improve patient preparedness, improve clinical efficiency, improve outcomes and lessen clinician burnout.

Enabling clinicians to operate at the top of their license

We sometimes hear healthcare executives talk about helping each member of the clinical team to “operate at the top of their license” – but we don’t hear much about how health systems can actually do that. It starts with digital health tools that free clinicians of their biggest pain-point: those day-to-day tasks that consume so much of their time but do nothing to advance patient care. If we can streamline administrative tasks, we will give the entire clinical team the freedom and flexibility to operate at their most efficient level. How can we do that? By providing tools that automate and personalize key aspects of care. This way, physicians and clinical staff can focus on what matters most – delivering top-of-the-line care to their patients.

When clinicians are bogged down with bureaucratic work, there’s value lost for the organization and patients alike. Physicians and other clinicians have highly specialized training to deliver specific aspects of care, but every clinician also possesses only a limited capacity. When other administrative tasks – like charting and paperwork – begin to absorb clinicians’ precious time, patient care gets compromised. Fewer patients get the care they need, and employee turnover at the organization may increase. A 2019 report from Annals of Internal Medicine put a number to this risk, estimating that approximately $4.6 billion in costs are attributable to burnout each year in the United States.

We’re currently at a moment where market demand for healthcare workers is very high and supplies are extremely tight. This makes retention a top priority for every provider organization. At the same time, it’s hard to keep ahead of the strain being placed on healthcare’s infrastructure, which has only been continually exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Digital health tools, when leveraged thoughtfully and when specifically designed to reduce the burden placed on physicians, can help provider organizations flip the script. Using digital tools the right way lets us retain happier and healthier clinicians and drive improved health outcomes for patients.

Imagine the value if we could effectively automate the manual tasks that clinicians spent hours each month performing manually. Or if gave clinicians an optimized patient registration process – what would the savings be in time spent registering patients back to clinical staff? Several hours per month, to be sure – which readily translates to millions in bottom-line savings for the health system based on time and efficiency savings.

Improve patient engagement, improve clinician satisfaction 

For patients with chronic conditions or those going through a new episode of care, there are endless tasks for multiple members of the care team that often result in inefficiencies.  We need to think about activating patients in their care as a way to support clinical efficiency, while also prioritizing high-risk patients to ensure they get the follow-up needed first. Activating a patient’s extended care team, e.g., a loved one or a friend can further supplement their care and recovery.  After all, every participant benefits when digital health solutions promote patient engagement – whether it’s increased enrollment, adherence to provider-prescribed care plans, or patient-reported outcomes. 

We need tools that give patients provider-prescribed, personalized information about their care plan on their own terms and in their own time. If digital tools can then automatically share insights on patient progress with clinical staff, it will reduce administrative work and result in healthier patients. Beyond this, the improved health outcomes driven by increased patient engagement create a positive feedback loop in which provider organizations save resources and time. 

Helping patients get activated and engaged leads to better outcomes – and better health. An engaged patient who feels empowered to be a champion of their own health is more likely to adhere to a care plan and less likely to require an unanticipated hospital readmission. And for patients dealing with a chronic condition, access to educational materials through digital channels can improve chronic disease management by up to 10 percent. As provider organizations begin to grapple with the effects of long-haul COVID cases, integrating digital health solutions that promote patient engagement into health plans could prove pivotal.

Creating an environment where physicians are enabled to operate at the top of their license and experience reduced burnout is a complex and multifaceted issue, but digital health tools that are designed with the provider in mind and aimed at improving patient engagement are an important tool in the arsenal for provider organizations navigating these issues. 

The key takeaway is that throwing just any technology at the problem can do more damage than good. When digital tools streamline rather than complicate workflows for care providers and empower patient engagement, the results have tremendous implications for provider organizations. Not only do these solutions drive improved patient health outcomes, they save time and resources for provider organizations. Perhaps most importantly, they preserve the health and happiness of the very physicians and clinical staff our healthcare system relies on – and that’s a cause well worth supporting.

About Carina Edwards

Carina Edwards is the CEO of Quil Health – a digital health company providing solutions to enhance the patient experience. A strong leader with a history of success in creating new products, transforming organizations and engendering customer loyalty, Carina has dedicated her career to helping others leverage IT to improve health outcomes, minimize risk and reduce cost. Prior to joining Quil, Carina served in executive positions at Imprivata, Nuance, Zynx Health, and Philips Healthcare. In 2016, she was appointed to the board of directors of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. In 2019, she was named by Becker’s Healthcare as “Female Health IT Leaders to Know.”