HealthApril 01, 2024

Insights on institutional fatigue: Combating healthcare worker burnout and improving patient care in complex environments

Healthcare worker burnout is a pressing issue. It not only impacts employee well-being but also the quality of care that patients receive.

During a Scottsdale Institute Fireside Chat, a panel of Wolters Kluwer contributors and healthcare specialists discussed this matter with moderator M. Michael Shabot. These experts presented potential solutions and helpful insights on addressing burnout and quelling institutional fatigue.

The causes and impacts of health worker burnout

In recent years, burnout among health workers has reached critical levels, affecting every area of the industry. A clear example is the record number of nurses reporting burnout - an April 2024 report puts the figure at 62%.

What may be more surprising is that younger nurses are the most susceptible. The impact of burnout on healthcare workers has translated into record resignations in the industry, spurring a nursing and pharmacist shortage.

Like anything else, the root causes of burnout lie in workers feeling under-appreciated and overworked. Also, patient demands are higher as healthcare costs have risen, and the abundance of available information in the digital age also increases patient expectations. As a result, greater workloads are pulling care teams away from their families and increasing incidences of mental health struggles.

Perhaps even worse is the fact that burnout correlates directly with safety events and patient care errors. However, even when workers are available, the prioritization of fulfilling tasks over human interaction can also decrease the quality of care and health worker engagement. Practitioners are spending more time on devices to input data instead of sincerely engaging with patients face to face. Consequently, dissatisfaction goes up on all sides.

Innovative solutions to healthcare challenges

Meeting this challenge doesn’t come down to care team leaders merely assisting each burned-out individual. Rather, it’s the sign of institutional fatigue that needs large-scale solutions and a change in day-to-day practices.

As the panel discussed the issue, they pointed to several proven solutions.

Improving workflows

A practical way to improve workflows involves streamlining processes with technology. Care teams should do as much as possible to enhance the quality of electronic health records by automating whatever processes they can.

This includes integrating evidence-based resources into EHRs which allows for a collaborative exchange of information among teams. These resources also facilitate offering clear explanations to patients and allowing them the time to dig into the details and understand them instead of receiving them from hurried health workers. One tool for accomplishing this goal is UpToDate® Patient Engagement, which simplifies health information for patients and minimizes workflow challenges.

Enhancing care continuity

Knowledge velocity has also become a genuine issue for care teams. There’s an overwhelming amount of information for health workers to process. Assimilating and sharing that data eats up time can lead to avoidable mistakes, and can disrupt care continuity when miscommunication occurs.

Once again, technology can do a lot of the heavy lifting and eliminate duplicative work that is a waste of energy and emotionally frustrating. Integrating clinical decision support systems into EHRs saves time and ensures care continuity.

Once integrated, referential drug solutions like UpToDate® Lexidrug™ can provide quick access to drug content, lessening misprescription and speeding up any medication decisions. A clinical decision support solution like UpToDate® can be a comprehensive resource for care teams, providing information on diseases and conditions that expedites care and lets doctors and nurses spend more time interacting with patients.

In fact, UpToDate has proven itself as a key element in improving patient care and increasing efficiency. For example, a Harvard study of over 1,000 hospitals associated the use of this tool with saving over 372,000 hospital days per year.

Addressing burnout for health workers as it arises

Despite the best efforts, instances of burnout will still occur. However, a proactive approach can mitigate the consequences.

Healthcare leadership can begin by measuring burnout with practical analytical tools instead of relying on engagement surveys and turnover rates. Self-reporting often discovers problems when it’s too late instead of identifying the signals that precede burnout. For example, click analyses can identify areas of frustration with tools and lead teams to better software solutions that improve workflows.

Additionally, investing in the position of a Chief Wellness Officer can bring a great return on investment as employees have a liaison to the C-suite. When healthcare professionals feel heard, they can reduce the negative feelings that foment burnout.

Healthcare industry insights

As the panel wrapped up their discussion, they reiterated the challenges in the healthcare industry that contribute to institutional fatigue. They agreed that there exists a vital need to fight the current trends toward making the work too task-oriented.

Healthcare leaders must remember that health professionals begin their careers striving to make a genuine difference in people’s lives. Consequently, these workers need meaningful interactions with their patients and care teams to experience the kind of fulfillment that prevents burnout.

Before making any changes to systems and processes, leadership should ensure that adjustments assist these clinicians in returning to their core mission and purpose. Since people-oriented teams are essential for both workers and patients, technology should be there to humanize care — not to put patients on an assembly line.

Also, the rise of employee advocacy, open communication, and positions like Chief Wellness Officer is a step in the right direction and will be a key component in the future of healthcare. Companies that embrace these roles and clinical decision support systems to enhance care will find their organizations on the right side of the wellness conversation and have better odds of defeating health worker burnout.

Watch the Scottsdale Institute Fireside Chat to hear from the experts. 

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