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A surprising cause of healthcare worker burnout: Tech

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Apr 25, 2022 12:00:00 AM

Whether you’re a techie or a bit of a Luddite, it’s hard to argue that in some cases, at least, technology can make things easier. In the medical field, everything from innovations in treatment and prevention, to using AI to reduce the burden of mundane tasks like billing and record-keeping, should be making things easier for patients and health professionals alike.

But a recent survey conducted by Elsevier Health yielded some troubling results about the relationship between healthcare workers and technology.

Over 3,000 clinicians (that is, healthcare professionals working directly with patients, as opposed to researchers) from 111 countries responded to the survey, often answering in ways that might surprise those of us not in the medical field.

One result that probably won’t surprise anyone, on the other hand, is that a significant number of healthcare workers are experiencing burnout.

About half the survey respondents plan to leave their field within the coming years. Even health professionals who plan to stay probably find this unsurprising; 88% predict a shortage of doctors and 74% predict a shortage of nurses.

Whether you’ve experienced it personally or have heard about it in the news, we’re facing a shortage of medical personnel, and based on the responses to this survey, that doesn’t seem like it will get any better.

You might guess that the burnout that many medical professionals are currently feeling is due to the (hopefully) dwindling pandemic. But the survey reveals that this is only one of a myriad of issues, including understaffing, inefficient administration, and high patient expectations.

Another significant cause of clinician burnout is more surprising: A majority of healthcare workers are struggling to adapt to new technology.

Many of us appreciate technology such as telehealth platforms and remote monitoring devices that can make our lives easier as patients. But there’s another side to these innovations -- they require already busy healthcare workers to learn how to use them and adapt them to their practices.

That’s why, while 70% of respondents to the survey feel that technology has the potential to transform healthcare in a positive way, just about as many - 69% - feel that all of this new tech will be “a challenging burden.”

You’ll find similar results when it comes to specific uses of technology. For instance, a majority of respondents believe that within a decade, most consultations will be remote, but half of them worry that this lack of physical presence will make it more difficult to empathize with patients. 63% of respondents believe medical training will now need to include lessons and advice on how to do this.

And overall, 83% of respondents to the survey believe training needs to be overhauled so they can keep pace with technological advancements, even simply in terms of learning how to use them properly.

We’ve seen before that medical professionals often struggle with technology that’s already been implemented into their routines - for instance, inputting patient consultation information into computer systems while listening to patients and showing a proper bedside manner. Add to this the additional sources of stress discussed in the survey results, and it’s easy to understand this sense of being overwhelmed.

While those currently in practice may struggle, there is hope for the new generation of med students.

One participant suggested a possible solution: making tech learning a part of medical education, rather than leaving all learning to trainings for already busy healthcare workers who are currently practicing medicine.

This would mean changes to curricula in schools around the world, but then again, it seems that just about any solution would involve some significant changes.

Whatever choice is ultimately adopted, it would be worth it.

The Elsevier Health survey shows just how crucial tech training has become for medical professionals and students. Hopefully, the more troubling responses to the survey will serve as a call to action, transforming the way tech is taught and trainings are conducted for students and clinicians. Otherwise, there’s little hope that the medical personnel shortage will improve any time soon.

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