HealthApril 12, 2023

Examining clinician burnout in healthcare organizations – why it’s also an IT concern

Clinician burnout is a serious issue that’s affecting healthcare organizations globally. However, most do not realize it can also be an IT concern. Below, we examine how clinician burnout affects healthcare organizations and discover how IT leaders in healthcare can help reduce it.

What is clinician burnout, and why is it a concern for healthcare organizations?

When clinicians experience burnout, the consequences are far-reaching. Unchecked job stressors can lead to emotional fatigue, a sense of detachment from others, and reduced feelings of achievement. A 2023 Medscape survey showed that 53% of surveyed clinicians experienced symptoms of burnout, which has only been aggravating the situation further. This is a concern for healthcare organizations, as the consequences of their exhaustion can directly affect patient outcomes by causing medical errors. This leads to patient safety issues, putting a healthcare organization’s reputation at stake.

Why is clinician burnout also an IT concern?

Clinician burnout, while an issue for healthcare organizations, is also an IT concern. Digital transformation accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic means that technology quickly became an integral part of the healthcare system. Clinicians needed to learn new applications and tools and adapt their workflows alongside administrative tasks. This increase in cognitive load has been linked to burnout, leading to difficulties in retaining personnel.

To address this issue, IT leadership is looking into solutions to reduce administrative burden, support the top-of-license practice, and improve care team efficiency. These solutions could be vital in alleviating the stresses and issues associated with clinician burnout, ultimately allowing healthcare professionals to focus on what they do best - providing care to patients.

What is the biggest contributor to clinician burnout?

The largest contributor is the administrative burden. Alongside their regular day-to-day work, the abundance of technological solutions related to Electronic Medical Record use, clinician decision support, telehealth, and the overall increase in digital health offerings has meant a continual stream of new applications to learn.

This includes changes to clinician workflows and additional administrative tasks. While any individual change may be insignificant (and come with benefits), the continual stream and totality of changes can be overwhelming when added on top of their daily tasks.

How can reducing clinician burnout benefit healthcare organizations?

The well-being of clinicians translates to safe and high-quality patient care, a high-functioning care team, and high engagement. When all these factors combine, the healthcare organization will benefit from better patient-clinician relationships, reduced costs from clinical errors, and a stronger reputation.

Why have efforts to modernize and streamline clinician workflows historically been deprioritized by IT leaders?

Clinician burnout is a top priority for healthcare organizations, but IT leaders are not often viewed as responsible for addressing it. Until recently, efforts to modernize and streamline clinician workflows were not at the top of the list of competing IT priorities. There was a multitude of other priorities that fell under the purview of the IT executive, including:

With such a broad range of important and urgent issues, IT leaders have understandably deprioritized efforts to streamline clinician workflows. However, effective IT workflows underlie a health system’s ability to optimize all tech-driven priorities. The inefficiencies contributing to clinician burnout will cause ripple effects across the organization.

What can IT leaders do to reduce clinician burnout?

Health systems are now expressing a widespread commitment to elevate their IT strategy and specifically focus on digital transformation. Leading Health Systems (LHS) increasingly view technology as a key organizational pillar alongside clinical care and patient education. Some systems even plan to significantly increase their spending on IT over the next few years.

As the link between current technology use and clinician burnout has become increasingly clear, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have shifted their sights to tackle clinician workflows, particularly through the lens of administrative burden.

Here are how CIOs plan to address the costly day-to-day administrative and workflow burden for their care teams:

Modernizing tech solutions with strategic consolidation

During the pandemic, health systems raced to implement numerous clinician and consumer-facing platforms for various tech-related issues. This brought rapid and abundant technological innovation into health systems.

However, with such a fast pace of change, it is often difficult to coordinate across the organization and bring awareness to existing working solutions that could be scaled more broadly.

Health systems are now tasking their IT leadership to build a more strategic approach. Many technology leaders state they are working toward a strategic roadmap of solutions that improve efficiency, reduce redundancies, and manage costs.

An updated IT governance structure

As organizational needs have shifted to necessitate CIO contribution to system-wide strategy increasingly, the role has evolved to include a proliferation of IT-related C-level roles and titles (e.g., CMIO/CNIO/CDO/CISO/CAO/CTO) to address new technological challenges and opportunities.

As a result, it’s more important than ever to clarify which IT leaders are responsible for which decisions and who has seats at which leadership tables. Health systems recognize how important governance is, and it is important to continue updating structures and processes in this rapidly evolving area of leadership.

Engaging the care team in the process to facilitate greater success

A health system executive strategy can be well-intentioned in principle yet disconnected from clinical operations, especially with technology workflows and applications. This results in digital strategies—and specific solutions and workflows—that are not fully aligned with current system capabilities or providers’ preferences.

A few best practices include:

  • Seeking and incorporating clinical leadership and clinician perspectives as they set overall digital strategy and define decision-making processes.
  • Consult clinical staff and administrative teams in designing, piloting, and testing applications, processes, and workflows.
  • Not stopping engagement with the initial rollout but also continuing to involve a multidisciplinary team over time. Additional clinical input is needed when scaling technology solutions across the organization.

While securing care team feedback solves much of the equation, IT leaders must also be mindful of the impacts of tech solutions on another key stakeholder: patients.

Optimizing tools for both clinicians and patients to elevate workflows

LHS recognizes it needs a digital health strategy that responds to consumer demands and enables it to remain competitive. However, it can be difficult for systems to execute this in a way that is both integrated into the system’s network and easy for patients to navigate.

Patient-facing solutions must be intuitive, interoperable, and seamlessly integrated across provider settings. Partners who can deliver optimized solutions for care team workflows and patient engagement will have a clear advantage over their competitors.

Read more about ways to optimize clinical workflows to reduce clinician burnout, and explore how integrated solutions from the UpToDate Enterprise™ Suite can support improved clinical workflows and processes.

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