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Virtual Care in the Clinical “Burnout” Era

Contributors

Carl H. Kennedy, FACHE - Managing Director, Outcomes Delivery, GE Healthcare

Setting boundaries to protect patients and clinicians

Clinical burnout is a ‘systemic problem’ i with no end in sight. Could Virtual Care be the vector that allows the industry to turn the corner? The idea of Virtual Care and the application across multiple care areas could become an enabler to curb burnout. In a society of 24/7 connection, a key could be the ability to limit access and ensure the correct clinician takes the correct action at the right time.


Origins of Clinical Burnout

Much has been written on why we are now facing a clinical burnout epidemic. What is less clear is how to change direction. While literature continues to promote an impending lack of beside clinicians, thoughts around ameliorating the situation are few. A sense of learned helplessness seems to be surrounding clinician burnout.

Many industry professionals now have firsthand experiences of practicing clinicians wishing to hang up their stethoscopes. Their desire to find something more ‘8:00-5:00’, even if it means less money. They cite the traditional burdens such as documentation, accessibility, lack of work-life balance, less pay for more work. The list goes on. The interesting component of these conversations is that no one seems to have a way out. With so much on the line and so much life spent dedicated to their profession – they are unable to verbalize how to continue practicing medicine and ‘be happy’ doing so.

What would a world with a blended clinical practice look like? COVID-19 has transformed the telemedicine space. Visits that were once required in person are now occurring from home. This includes the clinical provider working from home. An interesting component to think through, however, is whether this makes the clinical provider too accessible. How would we prevent that from causing burnout?

The following scenario is emerging and while it could be beneficial for patients, it might also contribute to burnout. After hours, when a particular physician is not on call, clinicians are reaching out to them when the on-call Attending does not send an immediate response. They know that the physicians have video capability and access to the patient care ecosystem. Due to their desire to help patients, this access is becoming a constant tether to work. It is with great care and thought that Virtual Care should not only be harnessed, but also deployed.

The Virtual Care Revolution

Literature points to continual burnout risk and now is the time to think through Virtual Care and its unique abilities. New software with artificial intelligence, cloud computing and near real-time communication is for the first-time enabling clinicians to care for patients from home. Intensivists can oversee intensive care units from their home – while maintaining the full functionality of being onsite. Restrictions on computing power and networks are not in the conversation anymore. How this impacts culture and outcomes is yet to be studied or well understood.

Conclusion

Advanced technologies need to be understood in order to provide a better perspective on applicability in the healthcare industry. With so much happening in such a short period of time, it is important that we look towards the Virtual Care Revolution to understand how we can harness its attributes to not only better support our clinicians but to begin turning the tide on the clinical burnout epidemic.


References

i: https://www.mededwebs.com/blog/4-reasons-why-clinician-burnout-is-a-systemic-problem-not-an-individual-one#:~:text=Clinician%20burnout%20is%20a%20serious,low%20sense%20of%20personal%20accomplishment.%22