Even before the onset of COVID-19, healthcare and social service workers faced higher than average rates of occupational stress. A 2015 study found that nearly half of all U.S. physicians experienced job-related burnout.
After two years of being on the frontlines of a global pandemic, clinicians, social workers, and nonprofit staff are overworked, overstressed, and facing a high risk of burnout.
What is burnout?
The term “burnout” was introduced by American psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger in the early 1970s to describe “a work-related stress syndrome resulting from chronic exposure to job stress,” particularly in the “helping” professions. Since then, social psychologist Christina Maslach has expanded our understanding of the syndrome to include any professional sector and characterized burnout as having three distinct dimensions:
- Exhaustion or energy depletion
- Cynicism and depersonalization
- A feeling of low personal accomplishment, leading to decreased effectiveness at work and at home
Nowadays, with the convergence of public and mental health crises, economic upheaval, and ongoing civil unrest, burnout extends into all areas of our lives and is no longer just a workplace phenomenon. As a result, healthcare and social service workers are exposed to unprecedented levels of distress and suffering in their personal and professional lives.
“In the last several months, [social workers] that previously had few concerns with personal, physical, or professional stressors are now reporting symptoms of burnout which are attributed to our recent societal turmoil,” wrote Micaela Peinado and Kelly Anderson in a 2020 paper published in the International Social Work journal.
What role does technology play in burnout?
In the healthcare and nonprofit sectors, staff members report spending an inordinate amount of time on administrative tasks. A 2017 study found that “primary care physicians spent nearly six hours out of an 11.4-hour workday on [electronic health record] tasks, including around 1.5 hours at night after the clinic was closed. Such tasks included documentation, order entry, billing and coding, and inbox management.”
We’ve all had to embrace new technologies, especially during the pandemic. As social distancing protocols have upended in-person communications, many of us have come to rely on digital tools.
While these new advancing technologies are supposed to streamline communication and improve workflows, they can become burdensome and time-consuming to staff members who may not have the mental capacity to take on more. If it’s not handled with caution and customized to accommodate staff needs, technology can become “too much of a good thing."
Platform fatigue is a direct result of the workplace “app overload.” Healthcare and social service workers now experience a deluge of digital demands from various apps and platforms, all competing for their attention. The rise in workload is reducing concentration and demanding an unrealistic level of multitasking.
Research conducted in 2018 by RingCentral, a cloud-based communications provider, found that on average, workers switched between apps 10 times per hour, resulting in 32 days lost in productivity per year.
Combating platform fatigue and burnout
Technology is driving significant change in patient care. It can also improve workflows and minimize workload, but relying on too many platforms can frustrate and fatigue staff and drive them to burnout.
To prevent fatigue, payers, providers, and community-based organizations need to be selective, purposeful, and deliberate with new technologies. When you choose to add new platforms to your organization’s workflow, you need to do the following:
- Ensure that all new platforms are interoperable. Disparate systems should be able to talk to one another, enabling the easy, secure access and exchange of information and data. Interoperable platforms enable better communication across departments, organizations, and sectors.
- Customize the technology to support your organizational workflow. No two organizations or departments are alike and each user has a different need. To improve care coordination across the organization, make sure that users are given customizable options so they can use the technology more efficiently.
- Allocate more money and resources to training. It can be difficult to embrace and learn new systems, especially when staff members are overworked and under-resourced. Training and onboarding should be provided to staff members so they can master the ins and outs of a new platform with ease.
- Make your why clear. Staff members become understandably frustrated when technology is introduced without reason. Technology should be appropriate for the work at hand and increase a team’s productivity without creating additional work. Have open conversations with your staff about new technologies and be prepared to explain why they are beneficial to the organization’s ultimate goals.
- Analyze the platform and user feedback. Technology should be regularly updated and improved, based on user analytics and feedback. As the world around us changes, our technologies should be agile enough to change right along with it. If the technology isn’t keeping up with your employee’s needs, it needs to be updated or replaced.
- Automate workflows. Administrative work is a longstanding burden in both clinical and nonprofit settings. Information can be difficult to track or reported inaccurately, especially if the majority of the work is managed manually by the individuals. With automated digital workflows, clinicians, in particular, can manage EHRs and streamline the admission and discharge processes. When introducing new technologies, make sure automation is possible, as it can reduce workload, while preventing human error.
Healthify, powered by WellSky offers an interoperable, easy-to-use platform to payers, providers, and CBOs that can be customized to suit organizational needs, all while easing the data collection, sharing, and reporting processes. We want organizations to have the resources, tools, and guidance needed to improve care coordination without overwhelming staff.
You can learn about our end-to-end solutions to address social drivers of health by requesting a demo here.