Workforce burnout continues to be a top concern for healthcare organizations. The COVID-19 pandemic unprecedentedly strained healthcare employees, with some experiencing PTSD, some leaving the workforce all together, and some continuing to struggle to balance work and their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Because of this, health leaders are focused on reducing burnout – not only for the betterment of their employees providing care to patients every day, but also to improve operations.
Burnout, however, isn’t a quick fix. And it requires more than a stipend for mental health services or fitness memberships. In many ways, it requires systemic change on behalf of the organization.
In fact, the surgeon general recently issued a report featuring new solutions that healthcare organizations should implement to combat workforce burnout.
As the issue is only expected to worsen, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D released a series of recommendations for healthcare organizations to pursue to adequately combat burnout. These recommendations address key drivers of burnout amongst clinical staff.
1. Improve Benefits & Reduce Workload
Organizations are encouraged to provide a living wage as well as paid sick and family leave. Additionally, they are asked to evaluate workloads and provide their workforces with adequate staffing – a key driver of burnout amongst clinical teams.
2. Identify Stressors & Implement New Systems
Healthcare burnout is unique – what helps in other industries is not always likely to be effective for health workers. Organizations should leverage in-person mental health professionals to conduct rounds on staff to offer support and identify stressors known to increase risk of suicide, such as feelings of inadequacy and new work environments. Organizations should also create policies that support (not punish) workers for needing to seek out mental health services.
3. Prioritize Staff Safety
Patient safety is always a top concern of healthcare organizations – so should be the safety of its workforce. During the pandemic, health workers were put in unsafe situations, caring for patients without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Health systems need to ensure access to appropriate PPE, that staff is adequately trained, and that they have resources in place that intervene if patient care encounters put staff safety at risk.
4. Reduce Administrative Burden
Why did clinicians and clinical staff pursue careers in healthcare? To care for patients. Yet, today, documentation and administrative tasks put healthcare workers behind a computer screen more in front of patients. To address this, health leaders need to prioritize equitable access to interoperable health technology, reduce unnecessary tasks within the electronic health record, and improve the user experience.
The surgeon general is not the first to sound the alarm regarding technology increasing health workforce burnout. In fact, technology usability was a key driver of burnout in healthcare long before the COVID-19 pandemic. A Mayo Clinic study even linked the electronic health record to increased burnout amongst clinical staff.
But how do you reduce burnout when the electronic health record is a must-have technology for care delivery? And when you, as the organization, are not responsible for the user experience the technology provides?
It starts with understanding what technology should and shouldn’t be used for. While health leaders look to simplify the tech stack, they tend to lean upon the EHR and other technologies – looking to consolidate whenever possible. However, just because a technology offers a feature does not mean it will meet the needs of your clinical team. Too often, trying to simplify tech hinders clinical staff and increases burnout. Clinical teams need adequate tools that streamline and support care delivery.
But it isn’t mutually exclusive – both goals are accomplishable. IT leaders can simplify IT infrastructures and clinical staff can have the resources they need…it just requires investing in the right technology. Health systems should start by identifying what technology is irreplaceable, where it has shortcomings, and what technologies exist to complement those shortcomings to adequately support staff in providing care.
For example, the electronic health record is the source of truth for patient documentation. However, using data within the EHR is incredibly difficult – and clinicians are facing burnout from trying to extract value from patient data within the EHR. A patient outcomes platform automates the collection and analysis of patient outcomes data, so clinicians can easily receive actionable insights and make more informed care decisions – reducing burnout and improving care. It’s what makes the EHR and the patient outcomes platform healthcare’s most powerful technology combination.