Amanda Akers

Use Artificial Intelligence to Reduce Burnout in Healthcare

Burnout: A Growing Concern for Hospitals

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital workers have experienced a persistent limelight. While this attention brought acclaim to nurses and physicians who worked tirelessly under stressful pandemic conditions, it has also highlighted a growing concern for U.S. hospitals: declining mental health and increasing burnout among physicians and nurses.

That hospital workers underwent mental health struggles during the pandemic is hardly surprising. Concerns around personal health and safety, long hours in uncomfortable protective clothing, and the pressure of the perpetual political spotlight took a toll on many in the healthcare industry. Moreover, since the decline of the pandemic, hospitals have been faced with an unprecedented backlog of cases that were put on hold due to COVID-19.

But healthcare personnel were already experiencing mental health struggles before the pandemic. Studies showed, in fact, that physicians were around twice as likely to experience burnout as workers in other industries. Burnout had been on the decline in the years leading up to the pandemic, despite some 40% of physicians showing signs of depression and suicidal ideation. Since the onset of COVID, however, the number of clinicians experiencing severe mental health issues related to burnout has risen to around 75%.

The Cost of Burnout in Healthcare

In addition to the obvious negative implications that deteriorating mental health has for physicians and nurses themselves, burnout proves costly for hospitals and patients, as well. Hospital workers are opting in increasing numbers for early retirement or jobs in other industries. Nurses and physicians polled during the pandemic indicated that a significant number – one in five physicians and two in five nurses – intended to retire within two years. Healthcare has already lost 20% of its workforce since the onset of the pandemic, including 30% of nurses.

This hospital exodus leaves both hospitals and the aging American public in a serious predicament. The national turnover rate for hospital healthcare workers is reported to be 16.5%, with each additional point of increase costing a hospital an average of $359,650. Another study shows that physician burnout costs the U.S. healthcare system $4.6 billion per year. Again, the pandemic called attention to an issue that was already present. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, studies were already predicting an alarming shortage of physicians in the coming decades.

Patients may experience additional negative effects related to burnout in healthcare. Physicians and nurses under significant stress are more likely to make mistakes or errors of judgment. A study from the University of Manchester, in fact, found physician burnout responsible for doubling the number of patient safety incidents. Moreover, unaddressed depression and burnout can create an environment of cynicism wherein healthcare workers lose the motivation to improve broken systems. Ultimately, therefore, burnout can result in both a decrease in the quality of care and an increase in cost for patients.

The Causes of Burnout in Healthcare

Thankfully, many hospitals today are placing renewed focus on the causes of stress and burnout for healthcare workers. Some of these may seem difficult or even impossible to avoid, given the nature of the job. Atypical work schedules with long hours, for example, can affect family and spousal relationships. The high-pressure environment of constantly making life-altering decisions for patients and their families is another inherent source of stress for healthcare workers.

If some of these stress factors are at least partly inevitable, it is all the more urgent that hospitals work to reduce stress wherever it is not an intrinsic part of the job. Thanks to the emergence of the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system, physicians and nurses today must spend a significant amount of time in front of screens performing tedious and repetitive clerical and administrative tasks rather than caring for their patients. In fact, nurses and physicians on average spend around two hours of time working in front of screens for every one hour they spend with patients. Although EMRs are undoubtedly beneficial for hospital record-keeping, the increase in screen time they create is contributing significantly to physician and nurse burnout.

The Solutions to Burnout in Healthcare

Reducing workload and ensuring that work is meaningful and rewarding is key to defeating burnout in healthcare. Many of the solutions mental health experts recommend revolve around classic stress-reduction strategies such as meditation and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Additionally, many hospitals have increased focus on ensuring that hospital workers feel supported and valued. Yet another compelling proposal involves overcoming shortcomings in training. Clinical training is overwhelmingly technical, and doctors and nurses rarely receive training that prepares them for people management, teamwork, and effective leadership. But given the propensity for screen time-related burnout, hospitals must place renewed focus on reducing screen time and eliminating tedious administrative tasks for physicians and nurses.

burnout in healthcare

Artificial Intelligence: A Valuable Resource for Reducing Burnout

Perhaps the greatest resource that today’s hospitals should take advantage of is artificial intelligence (AI) – a complex algorithm that uses data to make intelligent decisions. AI holds enormous potential for the healthcare industry, from detecting cancer to improving diagnostics to enabling better patient monitoring. Additionally, AI can automate repetitive tasks and create a workflow for healthcare workers that eliminates frustration and reduces human error.

As a result, AI has a direct impact on reducing burnout. According to Julius Bogdan, vice president and general manager of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Digital Health Advisory Team for North America, AI is an obvious solution to burnout in hospitals.

“AI can help automate routine, repeatable tasks so you can deploy your human resources where they are most needed. That type of automation is the low-hanging fruit AI can provide to help address turn-over rates and help reduce burnout.”

The possibilities for employing AI may seem dizzyingly endless, and hospitals will undoubtedly continue to discover new uses for AI in the coming years. In order to reduce nurse and physician burnout, however, the answer for hospitals is clear and present: find tasks that are repetitive and manual and replace them with AI-driven systems. Need a suggestion for where to start? Contact us to learn how AI can transform preference card management and eliminate the need for manual card maintenance.