By CRAIG NEWMAN
Provider burnout is a familiar issue for many in the healthcare industry. Healthcare organizations routinely seek to develop strategies that protect their hospitals from the threat of resource loss. These losses can have a major impact on efforts to improve fatigue in the industry and overall patient care.
While this is not a new topic of concern, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how deep this issue runs. Burnout costs the U.S. healthcare system $4.6 billion annually, with 49% of healthcare workers reporting burnout directly related to their work during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
COVID-19 also shed light on our ever-increasing reliance on technology. During the global pandemic, healthcare leaders have looked toward new approaches, such as artificial intelligence, to address the challenges facing healthcare. With its innovative adoption in medical practices, AI-enabled technology has already provided significant benefits. From predicting ventilator needs in patients, to AI that assists with EHR documentation, the need for technology rings true now more than ever.
Just how can the detrimental effects of provider burnout be resolved? And could artificial intelligence play a role? There is reason to be optimistic. AI technologies have the potential to support providers in a number of ways.
According to the Advisory Report, “the industry is on the cusp of major advancements in technology that will enable previously unthinkable administrative and clinical economies of scale.” And artificial intelligence is a prime example of tools being used to guide providers back to their mission of providing meaningful care.
Burnout continues to blaze
Of all of the causes of burnout – extended work hours, a lack of work-life balance – pressure from administrative responsibilities, such as electronic health records, is continuously cited as a top reason. In January 2020, the Annals of Internal Medicine released a study that found doctors spend about 16 minutes on EHRs for each patient visit. The study came out just a month before the first COVID-19 case was discovered in the U.S., underscoring the industry challenges that would intensify throughout the pandemic.
The extended state of this health crisis has a resounding effect on the industry. In fact, a 2021 survey from Medical Economics found that 80% of physicians feel burned out right now, with “too much paperwork and regulations” identified as 31% and “electronic health records” as 11% of the contribution to those feelings.
Today’s healthcare workers recognize their needs to optimize patient outcomes, and are keen to find answers. Their ideal solutions include identifying support teams that allow physicians and nurses to work at top of license without worrying about whether or not patients’ documentation is accurate and complete. One physician identified their ideal outcome: “Practicing medicine with real connections to patients...Enough time to actually deal with patient problems and get them the health they need.”
Artificial intelligence: extinguishing the fire
With a watchful eye on technological advancements within the industry, many are curious to see how new developments can improve the delivery of care and drive operational efficiency – conversations that only accelerated with COVID-19.
An early 2021 report from 451 Research found that AI and Machine Learning interest continues to grow. In fact, COVID-19 has accelerated AI initiatives in the U.S., with businesses planning new investments in machine learning technologies. While the healthcare sector trails behind other industries, we are already seeing waves in ML technology production in areas such as pharmaceuticals, with many more businesses planning to adopt ML technology in the next few years.
While other industries have adopted AI at a faster pace than healthcare, many leaders have embraced new technologies throughout the pandemic, and adoption is expected to rise over the next two years. Many understand that these AI-enabled platforms have the potential to address the prolonged challenges facing the industry today. This new technology could be the answer to the radical changes that have taken place in how providers approach the delivery of care.
The human connection
AI is already capable of performing many tasks that can improve provider efficiency, and we’ll see even greater improvements over the next few years. But there are many tasks that still require a ‘human in the loop.’
According to Dr. Steven Lin, it’s difficult for current AI technology alone to “‘get the level of accuracy, organization, readability, and accessibility that I would want as a clinician using a purely AI-powered tool.’” Quoted in a recent Fast Times article, Dr. Lin – a Stanford University associate professor of medicine and medical AI researcher – a human is still needed for quality and accuracy.
The technology continues to advance but often a specially-trained human still needs to be involved in some capacity, particularly in documentation. Some tools, such as dictation software, place that burden on the provider who must complete the documentation unassisted, in-between visits. Whereas ambient digital assistants utilize back-end labor – a medical scribe – to support the documentation. A key advantage of these “ambient digital scribes” is that the provider is untethered from their computer so they can spend more time at the patient's bedside.
Eye on the future
While AI solutions provide hope for a promising future, healthcare providers will find that they are not an out-of-the-box solution. These technological tools should adapt to the needs of the provider, and not the other way around.
How can you determine the best solution for your organization? A thorough review of specific objectives and current practices by healthcare leaders will be necessary to determine their own workflow, specialties, and scale and find the best fit. However, with the right training, personnel, and quality assurance processes, AI tools have the potential to deliver the best experience for the provider and the patient.
Craig Newman serves as the Chief Strategy Officer for HealthChannels and ScribeAmerica, where he supports current and prospective partners and helps assess the impact of scribes within their healthcare system. Craig collaborates with the executive and client solutions teams to think through new strategic initiatives to better serve healthcare leaders.
ScribeAmerica was established in 2004 as a clinical documentation solution for providers transitioning to the electronic medical record (EMR). The company’s focus on improving the accuracy and quality of patient documentation has resulted in higher patient satisfaction scores, improved revenue cycle, and better continuity of care. The company recruits, trains, and manages over 25,000 scribes in nearly 3,500 locations throughout the U.S. Visit ScribeAmerica - Medical Scribe Program for Doctors, Hospitals & Eds