Healthcare systems in Canada and around the world are struggling. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-lasting impact of overwhelmed and systemically overburdened healthcare systems has only gotten worse.
One of the most significant impacts of this pandemic has been on healthcare workers. Clinicians are burnt out and, according to the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, over 75 percent of Canada’s nurses were also classified as burnt out.
Today, there is a chronic shortage of healthcare professionals across Canada (and around the world). Healthcare workers are exhausted, pushed to the limit, and are leaving the industry, creating healthcare deserts where care is needed the most.
We need a solution fast so we can support our clinicians in doing what they’re passionate about: saving lives and keeping our populations healthy.
In this article, we’ll outline how clinician burnout affects our populations, at what cost, and what we can do about it.
Let’s dig in.
What is Clinician Burnout?
Burnout is a process by which clinicians are overburdened and overwhelmed with workflows to the extent that their mental and physical health are suffering. This can lead to reduced quality of care for patients, and long-term health consequences for both clinicians and the populations they serve.
In short, clinician burnout is a serious issue.
The main causes of clinician burnout can include:
- Increased job stress and sleep deprivation due to staffing shortages
- Lack of organizational or governmental support
- Poor workflow systems resulting in duplication of work, errors, and miscommunication
- Constant exposure to trauma
- High workload due to increased patient admissions and high mortality rates
- Poor personal and relational outcomes
- Depersonalization and derealization where clinicians feel a departure from others and even themselves
- Emotional lability or emotional dampening
- Excessive self-criticism and worsening self-view
- Performance apathy
- Anxiety and stress that is unmanageable and leads to poor functioning
- Fatigue, insomnia, and/or physical ailments such as gastrointestinal issues, headaches, or skin issues
- Feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, hopelessness
- Suicidal ideation or feelings of suicide and/or self-harm
How Clinician Burnout Affects Our Populations
Clinician burnout not only affects patients’ wellbeing, but the entire healthcare system. It can lead to reduced quality and safety of patient care, increased workplace accidents, and to rising rates of disability and other healthcare-related work leaves.
As clinicians experience ongoing and increasing burnout, reduced quality of patient care can result in high rates of:
- medication mismanagement
- workplace accidents
- increased rate of patient rehospitalization
- worsening of patient health and symptoms
- longer patient hospital stays
Clinician burnout can also increase the risk of poorer long-term mental health among both patients and clinicians, system-wide.
It’s easy to identify how clinician burnout has a significant and detrimental effect on our entire healthcare system, from patient bedsides to the overall cost burden to our populations.
What is the Cost of Clinician Burnout?
Approximately 1 in 5 patients who visit an emergency room would be more appropriately treated by a family physician, clinic, or pharmacist. This means that clinicians are not being utilized effectively, and can result in significant system-wide inefficiencies, errors, and ultimately, clinician frustration and burnout.
The cost of clinician burnout can’t be overstated. It affects all aspects of our healthcare system, from quality of care directly in clinics and hospitals, to major financial burdens on the system. Readmission rates, misdiagnosis, and worsening of symptoms put a strain on everyone.
System-wide, this can cost millions of dollars and result in poor healthcare outcomes, lower healthcare scores, and widening of the healthcare deserts in remote regions which are often populated by underserved, marginalized and racialized people. This only entrenches inequality in the systems.
But there are solutions available.
In a global survey of newer healthcare professionals, 81 percent believed technology has the power to reduce workloads, while 67 percent believe that technology can decrease their stress levels.
The system – and clinicians – are primed for change. Here’s how that can happen.
What Do Our Clinicians Need?
Our clinicians need a solution and fast – one that addresses one of the primary causes of burnout which is the sheer volume of patients, symptoms, and healthcare funnel blockages.
Creating a more streamlined system to address patient needs is the way forward. To do this, we need an approach that is flexible, accessible, and digital.
By leveraging the tools already available to patients – such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones – clinicians can have the opportunity to access patients from any region, regardless of how remote.
Tools like digital front door can help alleviate a large part of the burden on our healthcare system. Moving healthcare to the digital realm removes barriers that patients can face, whether that’s from mobility, regional accessibility, or lengthy wait times.
Using digital tools help ease clinician burnout by:
- Streamlining tasks
- Reducing administrative burden
- Reducing workplace accidents
- Improving patient virtual beside care
- Improving workflow efficiencies
Digital solutions remove the unnecessary burdens caused by outdated processes, which are no longer serving our populations or our clinicians. This can ultimately lead to improved stress loads on our clinicians and help bolster our healthcare system across the board.
Moving Towards a Solutions-Oriented Approach to Clinician Burnout
Easing clinician burnout requires a system-wide approach that is solutions-oriented and modern. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that our healthcare system is primed for virtual and digital processes.
Digital solutions can help relieve pressure on clinicians. Digital solutions are the primary point of entrance for patients to healthcare. They’re a place where patients can access a wide array of healthcare services, helping funnel them to the right providor or solutions.
“Digital front door is an omni-channel engagement strategy that combines the tools and technology needed to engage and assist patients at every touchpoint of their healthcare journey.”
Solutions like digital front door provide:
- Website/web portal access
- Chatbots to help funnel patients to the right healthcare provider
- Mobile applications
- Voice and/or phone chat options
- Virtual healthcare
- Search directories
- Various care pathways, including physicians, nurses, and pharmacists
Digital solutions that allow patients to check their symptoms online and get real-time advice from qualified practitioners can help ease the bottleneck in our healthcare system, all done virtually from the safety of their own home.
With this information, patients are better equipped with next steps and solutions for their care. Similarly, this can ease a lot of burden on clinicians, so they can treat patients appropriately, effectively, and most important, safely.
Clinicians who use digital solutions can access understaffed communities, where healthcare is in dire need.
All of these healthcare processes are automated with digital solutions, which ensures that information is up-to-date, accurate, and easily accessed by all relevant clinicians. This eases administrative burden considerably.
It’s clear that moving into the future of healthcare means ensuring both clinicians and their patients are safe. Digital solutions can be the tool that’s needed.
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