HealthMay 09, 2024

Supporting the human aspect of care in a world of increasing burnout

A look at how technology can help improve clinician burnout in an age of increasing challenges, from a recent Scottsdale Institute webinar.

Healthcare professionals are facing growing levels of burnout and technology just might be the answer

Healthcare professionals are incredibly dedicated workers, but the human aspect of care can take its toll—especially in the face of burnout.

As clinicians face higher levels of stress, burnout, and moral injury, healthcare leaders have increasing responsibility to protect frontline workers. They can do this through personalized approaches and updated workflows—integrating authenticity and measuring the impact of burnout on the people who have the greatest impact on patient care. 

COVID has changed the human aspect of care

Burnout has long been a problem for healthcare workers, but in the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many issues and complicated solutions. A 2023 study found that, among healthcare workers, COVID-19 amplified:

  • Preexisting burnout (54.8%)
  • Anxiety (138.5%)
  • Depression (166.7%)

It also reduced resilience by 5.7% and self-efficacy by 6.5%. The result is an environment where healthcare leaders and administrators must be acutely aware of the dynamics involved in the human aspect of care and be increasingly ready to respond to worsening situations. 

Healthcare professionals feel unheard—and it’s making burnout worse

Several aspects that contribute to burnout are within the direct influence of healthcare leaders. Burnout and psychological safety—the feeling or belief that someone is safe to speak up—have been found to be significantly associated with lower levels of burnout and greater process adaptation. Feeling heard might also help mitigate the effects of burnout, enabling adaptation during periods of uncertainty. 

These findings support the question of how organizations can listen to help address burnout and support the human aspect of providing care. In a recent Scottsdale Institute webinar on clinician burnout and institutional fatigue, M. Michael Shabot, MD, FACS, FCCM, FACMI emphasizes the importance of clinicians being heard by their healthcare organizations and the relationship to burnout. “I recently read a paper that explained how nurses and pharmacists don’t believe they’re being heard by leadership in their organization. This has a direct impact on the organization in terms of turnover.”

Frontline workers want authentic responses to their needs

Administrators should prioritize identifying risk and protective factors at both the individual and organizational level. Findings should in turn inform the implementation of effective methods of nurturing self-efficacy and resilience among frontline workers. Fortunately, most leaders will find that they have a range of opportunities in creating cultures that prioritize well-being. This should start with reviewing workplace policies, priorities, and practices to better understand how they potentially negatively impact worker well-being.

The key to all this will be authenticity in listening. Bradley Anawalt, MD illustrates what this can look like. “Leaders need to be authentic in the way they listen and respond and create a bidirectional communication that demonstrates hearing. So, for example, if an organization can’t take on a certain initiative because of cost, be up front about that in a clear and honest way.”

Personalized education and improved workflows can help

Authenticity often starts with personalization and tangible improvements to the day-to-day worker experience. Personalized optimization of the EHR can reduce burnout in ambulatory care providers when it leverages a one-on-one nature in training.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has also addressed physician burnout through its STEPS ForwardTM program. It recommends changes in four specific areas including:

  • Call management
  • Inbox management and coverage
  • Decompressed clinic schedules
  • Sharing care responsibilities

According to Bradley Anawalt, MD, “Investment in personalized education and response to individual clinicians requires investment, but it will pay off immeasurably with improved satisfaction and efficiency.”

Measurement is key to understanding the impact of burnout on patient care 

Frontline worker burnout is directly related to patient outcomes. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reports that burnt out clinicians are at higher risk of error and unsafe practice. This is connected to the chance that burnout triggers feelings of exhaustion and cynicism, making healthcare professionals cold and distant when addressing patient needs, jeopardizing the human aspect of care. Measuring burnout and the related factors is critical to addressing the issue.

Angela G. German, PharmD, BCOP, illustrates where providers can improve. “One area that a lot of healthcare systems fall short is not using appropriate methods to measure burnout. A lot use tactics like employee engagement surveys or clinician exodus surveys when they have access to validated tools to measure clinician burnout and better highlight the needs of the frontline workers. It is important for executives to understand the technologies that they're investing in and ensure their employees understand how technologies are used to support optimization.”  

Supporting the human aspect of care with technology

As burnout continues to become an increasingly complex issue for frontline workers, healthcare leaders should be open to exploring multiple opportunities to leverage technology that supports organizational goals, clinician health, and positive patient outcomes. 

Watch the Scottsdale Institute webinar "Insights on institutional fatigue: Combating health worker burnout and improving patient care in complex environments" to hear candid conversations and the critical need for systemic change from clinicians.

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