Devin Partida, Editor-In-Chief at ReHack, looks at the pros and cons of healthIT, and its impact on clinician burnout.
The healthcare industry has rapidly implemented new digital technologies over the past few years. While the healthIT explosion has produced many benefits for both medical companies and patients, recent trends reveal it can also carry some downsides.
Burnout has always been an issue among medical professionals, but it’s growing more severe. A recent survey revealed that 61% of American physicians frequently experience burnout, a significant jump from the last survey issued.
How HealthIT can worsen clinician burnout
While increasingly digital technologies aren’t the only factor contributing to clinician burnout, they may play a significant role in it. The overlapping timelines of rising healthIT investments and increasing burnout rates are no coincidence. Here’s how the industry’s growing reliance on these technologies may worsen burnout.
1. Blurring lines between work and home life
The most prominent way in which healthIT affects clinician burnout is by disrupting clinicians’ work/life balance. Telehealth systems, electronic health records (EHRs), and digital collaboration tools have expanded work past traditional boundaries. Now that health care professionals can access work tools and data from anywhere, their jobs can seep into their personal lives.
Colleagues, clients, partners, and managers can reach medical workers at any time of day and at any place. While this has its benefits, it can make it difficult to relax when not on the job. The stresses of medical work now follow these employees home, breaking down the barriers that would otherwise reduce stress.
2. Causing distractions
Increased reliance on digital technologies can also create distractions within the workplace. Studies have shown every interruption leads to a 13% increase in the risk of clinical error. Having more active devices in the hospital increases the likelihood of these interruptions, leading clinicians to make these mistakes.
Clinical errors will lead to stress as medical professionals worry about the well-being of their patients. Even if no mistakes occur, the increased risk of them could still cause stress. Frequent distractions and interruptions, regardless of their effect on clinical efficacy, can annoy professionals or make the day seem longer.
How HealthIT can fight burnout
HealthIT’s negative effects on clinician burnout are concerning, but they don’t tell the entire story. While these technologies can create unnecessary stress, they can also have the opposite effect in some situations. Here’s a look at how healthIT can reduce burnout in clinical settings.
1. Reducing workplace stress
Recent healthIT innovations can improve the speed and effectiveness of medical work. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) can detect cancer faster and with greater accuracy than conventional means. As these technologies save time and improve treatment outcomes, they remove some of the pressure from clinicians, reducing stress.
Previous studies show that workflow improvements significantly reduce burnout rates in clinical settings. Consequently, hospitals and other medical organizations could fight burnout by using healthIT to streamline their workflows. EHR filing automation, AI, and similar tools could then balance or even eliminate stress from other technologies.
2. Connecting health care professionals to help
HealthIT services could also reduce clinician burnout by providing a support system for stressed medical professionals. According to the aforementioned Physicians Foundation study, just 14% of physicians seek medical attention for their mental health systems. Telehealth services could make reaching out easier and more comfortable, addressing that issue.
Telehealth solutions for mental health can provide anonymous, text-based support for stressed clinicians. Medical professionals would then have an accessible, easy way to receive the help they need, mitigating the effects of workplace stress. Similarly, collaboration tools could help health care workers connect to others in similar situations, providing a support system to fight burnout.
Successful healthIT implementation is a balancing act
Like any technological field, healthIT isn’t wholly positive or negative in itself. The impact it has on clinician burnout depends largely on its implementation. Medical organizations must ensure they apply these technologies fairly and keep their potential influence on burnout in mind.
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Inappropriate, inefficient, or unnecessary digital technology adoption can make burnout worse, but careful implementation can help fight it. When the industry understands this dynamic, it can make more informed decisions and use new technologies to improve health care without raising burnout rates.