The past two years of the pandemic have overburdened our health systems and our clinicians resulting in burnout. Clinician burnout is defined as a combination of physical and emotional exhaustion that can lead to reduced effectiveness. There are many factors that contribute: overwhelming workloads due to staff shortages and increased patient demand; short appointment times for in-office care; updating of electronic health records (EHR); emotionally draining shifts; and time-consuming administrative tasks.
Most healthcare professionals joined the profession to heal people and make a difference in the lives of patients. Pre-COVID19, the bulk of their time was spent doing paperwork–filling out EHRs, getting pre-authorization codes, responding to emails, and attending staff meetings. Now, they’re still doing all of that, but dealing with staff shortages, chaotic working environments, a lack of personal work control, and a poor mental outlook. Feeling like cogs in a machine, it’s no wonder clinicians are leaving the industry in droves.
SteadyMD Medical Director, Jonathan Hinds, MD, specializes in emergency medicine. He says the way a doctor’s work life is structured can lead to burnout. For example, in many cases there is no time off on weekends or holidays. Also, most people would be surprised to know that some doctors do not receive PTO, or even maternity/paternity leave. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid. To cover the cost of time off, doctors have to pick up additional shifts or increase productivity. This usually means seeing a higher number of patients in an already packed workday. Until this compensation model for physicians changes, Dr. Hinds predicts this problem will only continue to get worse.
There are huge side effects to burnout that affect not only clinicians, but their patients. One of them is clinical empathy, which is a healthcare worker’s capacity to listen in a way that integrates cognitive and emotional empathy. In order to overcome losing clinical empathy, incorporating duty-motivated behavior is a last ditch effort to remain empathetic, but is cautioned to be used short-term, because it expends a great deal of energy. If clinicians can no longer seek inspiration from their job duties, there’s nothing left to provide motivation for them to provide meaningful work.
Josh Emdur, DO, a family medicine physician and Chief Medical Officer at SteadyMD, says the current primary care model of seeing patients every 10-15 minutes is one of the main reasons primary care clinicians are burning out at record pace. To deter burnout, clinicians need autonomy in their work, flexibility in their schedules, and empowerment with technological tools to provide high quality healthcare efficiently.
One solution being proposed to curb burnout is to use predictive analytics. It’s a valuable method of accurately forecasting staffing needs weeks in advance of a shift. Crunching historical census data and other metrics highlights trends and patterns that recur over time can forecast patient in and out flows in a hospital, allowing managers to align the appropriate amount and type of staff needed to deliver care.
Dr. Emdur agrees predictive analytics are a starting place to determine capacity, but says a nimble on-demand remote workforce is critical when volumes surge beyond expectations. “The COVID-19 Omicron surge of January 2022 was an example of how traditional clinics were not set up to provide care for thousands of patients in a day. In contrast, SteadyMD can evaluate and treat hundreds of thousands of patients every month using robust tech-enabled workflows,” states Dr. Emdur.
The effects of burnout linger on beyond time on the job, and can manifest in real ways, including insomnia, difficulty concentrating, decreased energy, and even suicide. According to the National Library of Medicine, suicide rates among physicians’ have skyrocketed—40 percent higher than the national average for male physicians and 130 percent higher for female physicians.
“It’s being recognized that physicians need self-care just like other professionals do. In some organizations, physicians are allowed to use Continuing Medical Education (CME) time for personal rejuvenation.”
– Dr. Jonathan Hinds
Dr. Hinds continues, “So instead of taking a class or going to a conference, a physician can now take that time and invest in their own mental health and physical well-being. These benefits can help reduce physician burnout.”
As healthcare professionals look for ways to care for themselves and their patients, many are turning to telehealth providers to continue to see patients. There are many perks for clinicians who choose to go virtual. First and foremost, clinicians are no longer bound by their geography. They can see more patients, more effectively from any state they are licensed in, without sacrificing balance to their personal lives. The result is not only increased satisfaction of delivering superior patient care, but also the decreased risk of burnout by providing a more manageable workload and improved patient communication processes.
Telehealth is a great option for clinicians who want to get away from shift work and administrative duties. It prioritizes the physical and mental health of clinicians in a way that can’t be found in traditional care settings.
Dr. Emdur cautions that burnout isn’t exclusive to emergency rooms, clinics, and hospitals. Burnout is possible in any care setting, including telehealth. It all depends on how we are supporting our healthcare professionals and setting them up for success.
“At SteadyMD, we do our best to protect our clinicians and provide them with a variety of work to keep things interesting, engaging, and fun. Our focus is on our clinicians. They are the lifeblood of our organization and they matter to us as individuals.”
– Dr. Josh Emdur
Clinicians at SteadyMD enjoy a variety of online care opportunities and remote work modalities. They are matched to partner programs based on their interests, schedules, and licensing. The SteadyMD Care Team consists of a community of support, resources and professional growth, open and available to all SteadyMD clinicians.
After all, happy clinicians make healthier and happier patients.
Josh Emdur, DO is a board-certified Family Medicine Physician and Chief Medical Officer at SteadyMD since 2017. He has a passion for providing personal, high-value medical care that embraces the use of technology.
Jonathan Hinds, MD, is board certified in Emergency Medicine and is a Medical Director for SteadyMD. In 2016, Dr. Hinds began investigating virtual care use to increase access to care and reduce the time for urgent care patients. He has worked with several national telehealth networks and launched national care models across the U.S.