The National Healthcare Labor Shortage: Addressing Physician and Staff Burnout
Whether it is stress due to continued outbreaks or overworked, understaffed healthcare workers, the continued COVID-19 pandemic seems to be exacerbating the clinician labor shortage. A June 2021 report by the American Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimated a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, driven in large part by retirements of an aging workforce. In a letter to Congress, the president and CEO of the AAMC added that COVID-19 has likely contributed to burnout that may be prompting physicians to “accelerate, rather than delay, retirement.”
Labor shortage among nurses has also worsened during the pandemic, according to a letter from Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, the president of the American Nurses Association, to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In the letter, Grant refers to the problem as a crisis that “puts our ability to care for patients in jeopardy” and mentions how states such as Texas, Louisiana and Nebraska have had to recruit thousands of nurses from around the country to fulfill COVID-19-related staffing needs.
He also cited results from a survey of nurses, which showed the mental health of these clinicians have worsened. Nearly half (46 percent) of nurses surveyed said they are less committed to the profession, and 64 percent are either looking for a job outside of nursing or are planning to do so within the next year.
Making the labor shortage more challenging, especially for rural and underserved regions of the U.S., are the substantial signing bonuses and wages offered by more well-funded health systems to attract nurses. One system in South Dakota even offered a $40,000 bonus to nurses who commit to the organization for two years.
Stopping the Cycle
Other than urging vaccination and fighting COVID-19 misinformation, there is little health systems and physicians practices can do to help end the pandemic. Many organizations may not be able to afford huge raises and other financial incentives to retain clinicians.
Another strategy to reduce burnout and improve physician, nurse and staff retention while improving patient experience is to reduce the tedious, time-consuming clinician activities that are not directly related to patient care. Although COVID-19 is certainly a contributor to feelings of burnout, technology also plays a significant role. Nearly three quarters (74.5 percent) of physicians, residents and fellows practicing at a large academic medical center who reported burnout symptoms identified electronic health records (EHRs) as a contributor. EHRs aren’t going anywhere, but healthcare organizations can eliminate the mundane, repetitive and low-value work related to data entry into the EHR, enabling clinicians to focus on high value interactions and activities.
The administrative and clinical information gathering before an appointment can be a very hands-on, time-consuming process. Obtaining information about the patient, medical history and insurance information, however, can be highly automated and simplified for both clinicians and patients if the right patient engagement platform is implemented. Patients can enter all of this information and more at home using their smartphone or other mobile device. They can even complete health-risk screenings that can help prioritize care for their appointment, making visits more efficient.
Clinicians are alleviated from manually entering this information and have the capability to review the data to aid in their visit preparation and plan of care during the appointment. Whether in-person or through telehealth, having all the information at the clinician’s fingertips enables him or her to practice at the top of their license and concentrate on what is important: achieving an optimal outcome.
By helping make clinicians’ work more meaningful in this way, health systems and medical groups can improve the clinicians’ experience and reduce feelings of stress and burnout. Investing in technology that promotes higher staff satisfaction, reduced turnover and increased retention is a true investment in higher quality healthcare and organizational longevity.
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