Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a plethora of clinicians have reported symptoms of exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nearly 65 percent of physicians are experiencing signs of burnout, and half of nurses have considered leaving the profession because of it.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, though. Many articles have been written about the widespread problem. What hasn’t received a lot of attention is the stress and burnout experienced by numerous allied healthcare professionals. We’re talking laboratory and patient care technicians, certified nursing assistants, pharmacists, physical, occupational and speech therapists, and others who often work just as many hours as clinicians — but don’t receive the same level of recognition.
The healthcare industry in the United States accounts for roughly 15 percent of all of the nation’s workers, and allied health professionals compose 60 percent of that. These employees are crucial to patient care, safety, engagement, and satisfaction. Without them, hospitals, health systems, medical groups, and other provider organizations wouldn’t be able to sustain operations.
Causes for Consternation Among Healthcare Workers
Just like their physician and nurse counterparts, allied healthcare professionals experience high levels of stress and burnout. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, severe burnout was typically found in 20-40 percent of these healthcare workers, and the virus outbreak only exacerbated the issue.
Why do allied healthcare professionals face high levels of burnout, even though they’re often only indirectly responsible for patient care? Many of them work hectic 12-hour shifts — plus overtime — without making much money. Some spend countless hours ensuring various clinical processes and procedures run smoothly, even while being responsible for an array of often time-consuming administrative tasks. During the pandemic, a lot of these employees faced added pressure from not only fear of contracting the virus but also unprecedented job losses.
Other contributors to burnout among allied healthcare professionals consist of:
- Heavy workloads
- Pressure to work quickly and efficiently
- Lack of physical or psychological safety
- Feelings of inadequate social support
- Perceived job security
- Limited scheduling input
- Elevated occupancy rates
- Rising patient ratios
- Working with patients experiencing serious illness
- Lack of technology interoperability
A big burnout factor for both clinical and non-clinical staff is the administrative burden. For example, employees other than doctors spend an average of 12.5 hours weekly per physician dealing with quality measures, activities that translate to an average cost of $40,069 per physician per year. Almost half of all medical groups report that dealing with quality measures that are similar but not identical is a significant burden.
Don’t forget the stark impact of the nationwide healthcare staffing shortage, especially in rural and low-income communities. Shortages are projected for every state by 2026, when the U.S. will lack an estimated 3.2 million healthcare workers.
As we mentioned in a previous blog, National Labor Shortage: “The Big Quit” Needs Contactless Care Solutions,” this labor shortage has defied expectations of economic experts, who now estimate that the problem will last for years due to the quitting and retirements. It only adds to the astronomical prices in turnover costs many provider organizations have had to pay.
The Unseen Impact of Burnout
Many healthcare workers report experiencing record-high rates of anxiety and depression compared to the general population. Not surprisingly, studies showed that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, these employees feared contagion and infection of their family, friends, and colleagues, felt uncertainty and stigmatization, reported reluctance to work or contemplating resignation, and reported experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms — all of which could have long-term psychological implications.
For some allied healthcare professionals, the psychological distress caused by burnout has the potential to lead to depression, anxiety disorders, sleeping disorders, and other illnesses. It also has been associated with pessimism, forgetfulness, poor physical and mental health outcomes, lack of motivation, absenteeism, avoidance, worsening job satisfaction, and substance abuse.
Patients aren’t exempt from the negative consequences of burnout in allied healthcare professionals. These employees are more likely to make medical errors and provide an overall deteriorated level of care, even if they’re not directly interacting with patients. For medical groups and other provider organizations, that means lower patient satisfaction.
Using Digital Health to Deal with Burnout
So, what can be done to alleviate burnout among allied healthcare professionals? There isn’t likely to be a quick fix to the healthcare labor shortage, and administrative duties surely aren’t going to be eliminated.
A growing number of healthcare providers are expanding their digital health capabilities. These tools have been adopted to minimize the pressure of allied healthcare professionals while also increasing the time clinicians can spend bedside. They’re not designed to replace staff but instead enhance their ability to work efficiently and reduce duplicative processes and procedures.
To achieve these goals, though, digital technology must be interoperable, patient-centered, and easily accessible. And, staff must receive adequate training on how to use it. Digital health resources should support the healthcare workforce, not burden them.
Want a couple examples? One utilized throughout the pandemic and since is telehealth. It employs telecommunications technologies such as remote patient monitoring, video conferencing and mHealth (mobile health) to assist providers in remotely delivering healthcare services. Outside the critical care setting, telehealth assists healthcare organizations with securely maintaining IoT devices and telehealth applications, delivering public health services, and promoting population health initiatives.
Another is digital check-in, which promotes streamlined registration and quicker and easier retrieval of completed patient forms, insurance verification, and any additional components. It frees front-office staff from time-consuming paperwork review and revisions and helps with collections, leading to an increase in copay collection.
According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) notes that digital technologies such as patient check-in solutions, online payment options, and automated appointment reminder systems have achieved the most positive results in recent years for providers because they streamline practice workflow, improve patient experience, and lead to more efficient and effective care delivery when implemented strategically. They can be employed through a hybrid care model, which enables healthcare providers of all sizes to compete with direct-to-consumer healthcare options and promote patient retention.
If you’re looking for digital health solutions to alleviate the burden on your allied healthcare professionals, check out Epion Digital Check-In. A component of our cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant patient engagement platform, it enables patients to conveniently complete registration steps before their appointment, leaving more time for your staff to focus on other mission-critical tasks. Along with ProviderMatch search and scheduling solutions from Kyruus, it creates a seamless, end-to-end patient access and engagement experience. Schedule meeting with us to learn more!