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​​​​Coping with Physician Burnout Amidst the Pandemic

Physician burnout was beginning to diminish prior to COVID-19. However, at the start of 2020, doctors were upset by too much paperwork, a lack of time for patient-centered care, and a poor work-life balance. Let's jump ahead 15 months. While all of the same irritants are still present, there is also the extra stress of working in the midst of a long-term, global public health problem.

Physician burnout remains a major topic. Doctors can grow exhausted and upset due to being rushed to see patients or being slowed down by inefficiencies, which can lead to burnout. Physicians should be given more time to focus on patient care. Thus practices should seek ways to alleviate this burden.

What is the current state of physician burnout?

When a doctor endures high levels of persistent distress resulting from their employment, they may feel burnt out. Emotional weariness, impatience, declining empathy, rising cynicism, and persistent feelings of depersonalization are all common symptoms.

Although pandemic-induced burnout in the acute environment has received national attention, any spectrum clinicians might experience similar symptoms. Uneven patient loads, restricted safety precautions, and staffing shortages have contributed to high stress levels among primary care and specialists. Doctors are attempting to negotiate these shifting dynamics while soothing anxious patients and ensuring their own safety and health.

The answer could be found in technology

While there are various approaches to addressing physician burnout, one helpful technique is to use the appropriate technology. Some people believe that the rising use of technology in healthcare is hastening burnout because electronic health records (EHRs) and other gadgets divert attention away from patient interactions is known at times to be discordant with different electronic systems leading to frustrated efforts.

On the other hand, clinical and practice management systems, when built and used efficiently and in unison, can actually offer more efficiency with smoother workflows, allowing physicians to truly engage with patients while increasing productivity. Here are a few examples of how technology can be beneficial.

Putting together a well-balanced timetable

The ideal appointment schedule strikes a compromise between the necessity to see patients quickly and the importance of spacing out appointments to enable safety measures while also allowing physicians to rest and recuperate. Drag-and-drop scheduling technology allows employees to create, alter, and optimize schedules quickly and effortlessly.

Physicians who have access to technology can adjust their schedules to their own work preferences, including time away from the office to avoid overwork and burnout.

Using connected care solutions at any time and from any location

When COVID-19 erupted, providers swiftly transitioned to remote care, frequently employing common virtual communication platforms to facilitate patient-provider interactions. The logistics of these visits were made difficult by privacy and security concerns, clumsy interfaces, and the necessity to switch between an EHR and a virtual communications platform.

Despite the challenges, clinicians began to understand how telehealth contacts may improve patient communication and strengthen relationships. There is a better sense of privacy, and the potential for a more gratifying patient interaction because patients do not have to travel to and from the physician's office but can remain in a comfortable, unintimidating location. This is especially true for patients who have found office visits difficult in the past, such as the elderly or those who live in rural locations.

The potential for connected care to reduce physician burnout has been recognized. Telehealth benefits providers with the flexibility and convenience of enabling care from any location. Burnout can be alleviated by a change of scenery or hour of day, such as working the latter half of the day from home. Providers can accomplish charting and administrative chores during a visit with the flexibility of an EHR-integrated telemedicine system that delivers both clinical and practice management operations without losing the quality of service. This may mean fewer hours spent documenting, which saves time during and after-hours reducing risk to burnout.

Providers require technology specifically created for healthcare and implemented in the EHR to take advantage of the benefits of telemedicine while addressing its inherent limitations. This should maintain HIPAA compliance while allowing for one-click functionality. Clinicians can engage in the visit while also documenting telehealth inside clinical care procedures. The information gathered during the appointment can be easily shared within the practice, including between doctors and departments.

Reducing staffing shortages 

Physician burnout can be exacerbated further when a practice is run on a shoestring budget. According to a Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) study conducted in March 2020, 40% of practice leaders reported greater staffing shortages due to COVID-19's statewide spread, and 42% of respondents in a linked poll said they used temporary workers or a floating staff pool to cover the gaps.

To guarantee that practices are fully staffed, procedures should be put in place to ensure that neither employees nor providers suffer from additional burnout due to being understaffed. For example, planning vacation schedules in advance and requiring employees to give a few weeks' notices might help employees avoid being surprised by absences or staffing gaps. Practices should also make an attempt to cross-train their employees so that they can fill in for each other when needed.

Physician burnout is expected to continue to be a problem, at least for the near future. Practices can assist physicians in better managing their day-to-day experiences and reduce the risk of irritation and weariness by incorporating technology into a larger strategy. Having the right strategy in place definitely helps, so make sure to check out our ultimate physician resources now and start improving your practice today!

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This article was written by Melissa Hansen, a seasoned writer with contributions to niche BC outlets like Epic Firms, Forever After, and Bridgewell Group. When she is not crafting content, Melissa enjoys her time with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and an inspiring book in the other.