For many decades physician burnout has been a major problem for one of the healthcare industry's major players. Physicians suffering from burnout often seem fine on the surface, but the unpleasant truth is that burnout is often accompanied by emotional fatigue, depersonalization, and diminished satisfaction at work and home. On top of the grueling process physicians go through during training, they are often met with increasing demands once they have completed their education and fully joined the workforce.
A high turnover of physicians due to burnout leaves patients with fewer doctors thereby further increasing the workload for their clinician colleagues, with the potential to create a pernicious cycle. Eventually, the result is a reduction in productivity across the board with a corresponding drop in the quality of care rendered to patients and an increase in operating costs for hospitals. Many place blame the established culture within medicine that encourages selflessness among doctors. Others blame draconian policies that restrict creativity while push unnecessary technology on clinicians.
I'm here to say that technology, when carefully selected at the system level, can be harnessed to prevent burnout. No, by technology I do not mean electronic medical record software (EHRs) which are notorious for compounding work and reducing the time doctors can spend with each patient. Proper evaluation is necessary to ensure that the right technologies are being utilized by your care team. When done right, connected technology can help reverse the fortunes of health organizations struggling to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are 5 ways connected technology can be used to prevent the deleterious effects of burnout in our medical professionals:
Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring or RPM is a method of healthcare delivery that uses the latest advances in information technology such as wearables and connected devices to gather patient data outside of traditional healthcare settings. The smart devices used in remote monitoring can collect patient data anywhere and reduce the burden on physicians and nurses because vitals and symptoms can be reviewed without the need for an in-person visit. These devices can be configured to collect data automatically at fixed intervals. A common concern is that automation increases the volume of data but this also improves the reliability of the data. Some companies such as PatientOne utilize simple algorithms to alert providers when patient physiological data is outside the normal range. So yes, a higher volume of data may be unavoidable, but when done right RPM eventually translates to less work once a reliable alert system is in place.
Similarly, connected devices used by physicians in their offices can be used to directly input patient data into electronic records, shortening that step during office visits as well.
Technology can sometimes transform intimate routines into a series of robotic steps. Artisans can attest to this as advances in tech have made us question human creativity and the art of medicine has not been spared. For every new module added to an EHR or documentation mandated for billing purposes, the quality of a patient visit is diminished. Patient engagement is defined as the desire and capability to participate in highly personalized care in cooperation with a physician, provider, or caregiver to maximize outcomes and the healthcare experience. In the same way, technology now enables us to create hyper-realistic 3D animations, it can be used to improve patient experiences through carefully selected patient engagement tools. One huge benefit of patient engagement is the automation of various types of reminders, from medication reminders to appointments; they increase treatment adherence and patient satisfaction while reducing no-shows, readmissions, and cost of care.
In-home Testing and Sample Collection
Both patients and providers are realizing that in-home testing can have many benefits. Companies such as EverlyWell and Vault deliver COVID-19 testing and vaccinations (the latter) to patients in the comfort of their homes. From individual at-home testing to mass testing and vaccination sites that can reach millions every day, physicians can harness the power of technology to reduce the need for office visits for routine tests. This is one technology-driven development we expect to see beyond COVID-19.
Long considered the Achilles heel to widespread adoption of telemedicine, the physical exam remains the last frontier to realizing a fully remote practice. While products like TytoCare’s TytoHome Remote Exam Kit are enabling full physical exams, we still have a lot of room for progress to close the gap. One interesting iteration is the addition of a care technician to conduct a physical exam during a telemedicine visit. It remains to be seen whether there would be widespread adoption of such a service, but barring any reimbursement issues, it could be a game-changer.
Contextualized Insights From Peers
There are many reasons for poor treatment adherence. The resulting poor outcomes may be blamed on a variety of factors such as a lack of sufficient patient education, delays in care, lack of access, and inadequate care coordination. Healthcare organizations (and employers) will benefit from technology that enables more efficient care delivery by harnessing insights from groups of physicians and patients. We have seen trained volunteers (peer volunteers) use smartphones to alleviate the communication burdens experienced in areas with severe shortages of healthcare professionals. Community health educators experienced in a given disease area can impart knowledge in a more personalized manner than seen in a group therapy session. Shared cultural experiences between volunteers and patients also contribute to improvements in adherence and consequently outcomes. This is also seen in physician communities with a culture of continuing peer education. With so many healthcare processes moving online, we know that technology can be used to break down barriers to information dissemination.