Exhausted healthcare worker looking through window

Preventing and Managing Burnout in Healthcare Workers

Since 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on healthcare systems worldwide. As frontline workers, healthcare providers (HCPs), namely physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, have played key roles in containing this global disaster and fighting to save lives. They’ve been instrumental in combating the virus while often suffering from COVID-19 themselves – since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 150,000 cases of COVID have been recorded in Canadian healthcare professionals.  However, this long struggle has begun to take a heavy toll on their own physical and mental health. This psychological state is called burnout. It occurs as a result of tremendous physical, mental, and emotional strain, particularly occupational stress.

Studies show that in spring 2021, the prevalence of burnout was more than 60 percent among Canadian HCPs. Furthermore, nurses were the group most affected by burnout among various HCP populations. A survey conducted by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario found that over 75 percent of Canada’s nurses were classified as burnt out.

The deadly and uncontrollable nature of a pandemic can make HCPs feel overwhelmed, anxious, and helpless. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of personal protection equipment or supply shortage, heavy workloads, and social stigmatization.

How Does HCP Burnout Affect Patient Care? 

Burnout can adversely affect not only HCP and patient well-being, but also the entire healthcare system. According to research, increased burnout levels among HCPs are linked to the decreased quality and safety of patient care. This is because the lack of motivation, chronic absenteeism, and low morale among the medical staff adversely affects the quality of care provided to patients.

In the long term, this can increase medical care costs, place excess burden on the healthcare system, and result in overall poor physical and mental health outcomes.

What Are the Main Causes and Symptoms of an HCP Burnout? 

The main causes of HCP burnout include:

  1. Constant exposure to traumatic events
  2. High workload due to excessive infection and mortality rates
  3. Increased job stress and sleep deprivation due to time constraints
  4. Lack of organizational or governmental support
  5. Work stress interfering in personal lives and relationships

The symptoms of burnout include psychological indicators such as:

  • Depersonalization, wherein HCPs develop cynical attitudes toward patients
  • Emotional exhaustion due to a depletion of emotional resources
  • Diminished professional achievement, characterized by excessive self-criticism and a negative evaluation of one’s professional performance
  • Feelings of anxiety and stress
  • Fatigue, listlessness, and insomnia
  • Sadness, low mood, disillusionment, or hopelessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Decreased productivity and poor concentration
  • Lack of initiative, motivation, or creativity

How Can HCPs Prevent and Manage Burnout? 

HCPs usually have very demanding professional lives. However, overwork and chronic professional pressure accelerate the path to burnout. Therefore, they should consider speaking to their colleagues and supervisors to help them implement appropriate time management and teamwork strategies to achieve a healthy work-life balance and avoid stretching themselves too thin. 

They could also seek help from support groups, therapists, life coaches, and personal mentors to help them process their emotions and manage their time well.

Here are some of the strategies that both governmental and non-governmental healthcare institutions can implement to minimize HCP burnout:

  • Provide additional training to the supporting staff when required.
  • Make sure that mental health resources are convenient and accessible.
  • Strengthen the organizational support to meet the HCPs’ physical, mental, and emotional needs.
  • Provide a framework of support for HCPs’ family-related issues (e.g., meeting transportation, childcare, allowance, and housing needs).
  • Supply personal protective equipment and other necessities.
  • Create a positive work and learning environment for your HCPs.
  • Implement technological solutions wherever possible to minimize workload.
  • Hire support staff, particularly for paperwork and administrative tasks, to decrease the burden on HCPs and free up their time so that they can get adequate rest.

How Digital Tools Can Help Alleviate Burnout 

Digital tools can play an important role in the fight against HCP burnout by streamlining tasks, reducing administrative burden, and improving patient care. And many HCPs are ready and willing to embrace the technology that will help them work more efficiently – a global survey of young healthcare professionals found that 81 percent believe technology has the power to reduce workloads, while 67 percent expect it can help decrease their stress levels.

Solutions like eForms can make a substantial impact. eForms replace time-consuming paper forms, reduce input errors, and have been reported to increase efficiencies by up to 65 percent.

Similarly, eReferrals improve efficiencies by enabling clinicians to instantly find and refer patients to specialists in their area directly from most EMR systems, eliminating both paper referrals and archaic, unreliable fax machines.  According to Canadian Health Infoway, 85 percent of clinicians said the seamless sharing of patient information between providers would increase their productivity.

By removing the unnecessary burden caused by outdated processes, we can give clinicians back the time they need to focus on providing effective patient care and help alleviate some burnout.  

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Learn how Think Research’s digital tools can help combat healthcare provider burnout in your hospital, pharmacy, or clinic.