Modernizing Administrative Functions Solve a Big Part of this Problem
The rate of US healthcare provider burnout is concerning. Clinician shortages are causing delays in care and increased costs, when costs are already an enormous problem. Burnout is also causing healthcare providers to leave the profession, which causes labor shortages and escalating labor costs. Due to burnout, access to care and paying for care both continue to get more challenging.
Big contributors to burnout are the administrative functions that healthcare providers must undertake to properly perform their tasks and collect from third-party payers. Many healthcare providers still handle these tasks manually. This is no longer necessary. These tasks can be automated, which significantly eliminates having to perform these tasks manually and strongly reduces overwhelming levels of responsibility and burnout.
Nearly Two-thirds of Doctors and Nurses are Burned Out
Physician burnout is a serious problem in the U.S. healthcare system. Approximately 63% of physicians report signs of burnout. Many factors contribute to burnout, but it is commonly associated with system inefficiencies and administrative burdens.
“While burnout manifests in individuals, it originates in systems. Burnout is not the result of a deficiency in resiliency among physicians, rather it is due to the systems in which physicians work.“
— Christine Sinsky, MD, AMA vice president of professional satisfaction
To make matters worse, physician burnout is on the rise. Burnout rates among doctors in the United States, which were already high a decade ago, have risen to alarming levels.
Research results published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings show burnout rates going to 63 percent of physicians at the beginning of 2022 from 44 percent in 2017. Only 30 percent of physicians felt satisfied with their work-life balance in 2022, compared with 43 percent five years earlier. (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, December 2022)
Results from a 2020 survey indicate that also almost two-thirds of nurses (62%) experience burnout. Younger nurses are especially burned out – 69% of nurses under 25 report burnout. (American Hospital Association, October 2022).
There are many causes of nurse burnout. Similar to doctors, nurse burnout comes from systemic challenges facing the healthcare system. Like doctors, nurses also have extensive administrative requirements and must constantly document tasks and support demands related to collecting from third-party payers.
The Surgeon General Has Sounded the Alarm
In 2022, the United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory highlighting the urgent need to address the health worker burnout crisis across the country. The Surgeon General highlighted the following concerns if we do not act upon this crisis:
- We will place our nation’s health at increasing risk
- This will affect the public’s ability to get routine preventive care, emergency care, and medical procedures
- It will make it harder for our nation to ensure we are ready for the next public health emergency
- Health disparities will worsen as those who have always been marginalized suffer more in a world where care is scarce
- Healthcare costs will continue to rise
Burnout is Negatively Impacting Patient Care Quality and is Increasing Healthcare Costs
The US healthcare system runs a high risk of too many burned out doctors that are likely to leave the practice of patient care. This negatively impacts patients’ access to and continuity of care. Burnout can also threaten patient safety and care quality especially when coupled with not having enough time to spend with each patient, which is a related issue.
Healthcare providers report feeling stressed because of time pressures and other work conditions. Time pressures with patient visits result in clinicians not being able to spend enough time with patients to provide the best quality care. Chaotic working conditions, time pressures, extremely high work paces, along with challenging organizational cultures related to heavy bureaucracies and domineering third-party payers strongly influence physicians’ feelings of dissatisfaction, stress, and burnout. This leads many healthcare providers to want to leave the practice of medicine.
The Domino Effect of Healthcare Burnout
Burnout has led to turnover. Turnover has led to rising labor costs. As a result, healthcare costs continue to rise even higher above an already significantly high-cost healthcare system. This issue is also putting many healthcare providers in more financial strain when they are already struggling to even break even. Hospitals and healthcare clinics are closing operations on a frequent basis due to net losses.
The impacts of burnout are pervasive and causing serious issues for most healthcare providers. A 2022 study from Optum shows that 66% of healthcare leaders said growing labor costs are having the most negative impact on their business followed by an increase in worker errors as a close second place issue.
Training costs have been a significant reason for growing labor costs due to high turnover rates. The Optum study shows that 47% of healthcare leaders indicate training costs as the leading workforce disruption and negative impact on performance. The survey results showed two areas tied as the second biggest issue at 33% – lack of skilled talent and worker exhaustion.
Physicians Report that Administrative Burdens Cause Burnout
Physicians report that administrative burdens such as filling out forms and documenting tasks performed are important contributors to burnout. Nurses also contribute administrative tasks to burnout.
Healthcare providers spend extraordinary amounts of time documenting patient visits, addressing emails, and gathering support to satisfy third-party payers, among many other tasks.
Research has illustrated that administrative burdens largely contribute to physician burnout and frustration. As Dr. Sinsky said in a 2022 Moving Medicine video update, “….physicians don’t leave their careers. They are leaving their inbox. There’s been an exponential rise in the amount of inbox work for physicians.”
The administrative requirements are numerous and overly time consuming – especially when the tasks are performed manually, which is still the case with most healthcare professionals.
Putting it all into perspective, doctors and nurses see numerous patients each day that all come with different issues and have different third-party payers each with different requirements. To manage all of this, doctors and nurses must perform many extensive tasks above and beyond what’s necessary to just diagnose and treat each patient.
Some of the many examples of administrative tasks performed by healthcare providers include:
- Scheduling patients while making sure they are seen by the right healthcare providers and ensuring the healthcare providers will be paid by the patient’s insurer
- Understanding the different contractual prices with and requirements to get paid from each patient’s third party payer
- Documenting the patient visit, which often takes healthcare providers as much time as actually visiting with the patient
- Managing patient prescriptions and ensuring proper steps are followed per the requirements of each drug class
- Responding to constant inflows of email from patients, providers, suppliers, and pharmacies
- Reacting to constant payment denials by third-party payers that regularly deem providers’ claims for payment as insufficient, ineligible, or requiring more support
Administrative Tasks Can be Automated
Reducing burnout is critical to the future of the US healthcare system. By identifying where physician burnout exists, solutions can be implemented to address the primary cause of burnout – excessive administrative tasks.
The good news is that automation has proven to be a very helpful part of the solution to healthcare burnout. The right technology solutions and related process improvements are eliminating the majority of the administrative burdens that are primary drivers of burnout. The Optum study reveals that 61% of healthcare leaders are finding efficiencies with automation, assistive technology, and digital workflows. Technology advances are making it easier to have real-time information, make evidence-based decisions, and perform tasks that were previously done manually.
The following are some examples of where automation can greatly minimize administrative tasks that are manually performed by healthcare professionals:
- Many front-end patient scheduling tools are available that streamline patient scheduling and insurance eligibility checks
- Payer contract databases containing all payer rates and billing requirements can be used to automate the revenue cycle management process (billing and collections)
- Patient visits can be recorded and transcribed into EHR systems through natural language processing (NPL) tools
- Prescription management tools are commonly used now and also have features for verifying drug class requirements and monitoring proper dosage amounts
- Artificial intelligence based tools and outsourced support services are available to manage most of the emails
- Systematic algorithm-engines can further automate revenue cycle management and drive maximum collections