Digital transformation can reduce burnout – and cause it

Advances in digital care and virtual health are adding to the digital invasion of daily life, extending beyond normal working hours and adding to the pressure already in healthcare workers’ lives.

A panel moderated by Christine VanZandbergen, vice president of analytics and research at Penn Medicine, with Harvard Medical School professor Emily Oken, Isil Arcian, director of ambulatory EHR services at Stanford Children’s Health, and Jenifer Lightdale, vice-chair of the department of pediatrics at UMASS memorial children’s medical center, discussed the shifting paradigms and introduction of new tools that add to the burn of day-to-day work.

“There’s a huge influx of data coming into our systems, as well as tools and documentation needs that are not all fulfilled by a single app” Arcian said.

She noted patient expectations have also shifted, resulting in people who want results faster, with information flowing to them, and all of this results in additional tasks and a general burden on all healthcare workers.

Lightdale pointed out that to her and her colleagues, the deluge of technology has been a blessing and a curse.

“Even if all the information is right there and I can use an app to get into the EHR, it’s still exhausting, and I think that the toll on clinicians is still just being understood as it is happening, and so it’s very difficult,” she said.

Oken explained that investment in digital infrastructure meant to reduce the need for additional staff has actually pushed clinicians in many cases to the front lines, making an increase in technology actually harder on providers.

“The human filters have all but vanished, in terms of being the interface between providers and patients,” VanZandbergen agreed. “And we can’t afford to have providers continuing to lead healthcare.”

Harding noted it’s going to be a long time before technologies like AI will be able to replace physicians, which is why it’s important that burnout be continually assessed and treated seriously, not as a phenomenon that can be cured by a clinician picking up a hobby or buying a Peloton.

Oken also said clinicians need to be part of the conversation and help make sure the users of the technology are being considered—but in the end, the goal must be improvement in care to the patient.

“Sometimes we can get wrapped up in these new tools and tricks, so we want to make sure that these technologies are seen as the mediator and not the end goal,” she said. 

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