Working Smarter Not Harder: The Role of AI in Reducing Physician Burnout

physician typing notes on computer

Physician burnout remains a very real, and very challenging, problem for the healthcare sector in 2021. The global pandemic put immense pressure on physicians and healthcare practitioners as they juggled not only massively increased workloads, but complex regulations and restrictions around PPE, patient care and facility compliance. The 2021 Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report found that burnout is still at a critical level with several specialties taking more strain than usual due to the pandemic. What does physician burnout treatment look like in 2021?

What lies ahead is a rocky road for the recovery of not just physicians, but the world, as the pandemic continues to influence stress, engagement and patient care. It has become paramount to investment in solutions that can mitigate or minimize the pressure on the physician and significantly reduce the risks of burnouts over the next year.

Findings from the 2021 Physician Burnout Survey

Released early in 2021, the Medscape survey found that the most impacted specialties in 2020 were critical care, rheumatology, and infectious diseases compared with urology, neurology, nephrology, endocrinology and family medicine in 2019. This shift makes sense in light of the current climate and highlights the importance of providing these sectors with even more support over the next year. The situation as it stands today is unlikely to change at speed, and these specialties are critical to ensuring patient care during the crisis.

As with many other careers and life situations, the pandemic also impacted the gender disparity in healthcare. Globally, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic with research finding that women account for 54% of job losses, and they are 1.8 times more vulnerable in a job crisis. This is largely due to their increased burden of care and the limitations imposed on working women with regards to childcare and education. In fact, the pandemic has set women backwards by at least 10 years, and no profession is immune. This was reflected in the report which found that women, who consistently report higher percentages of burnout than their male colleagues, are 51% more burned out than men at 36% – a significant increase from 45% of women in 2013. This disparity is further highlighted when physicians were asked what workplace issues concerned them the most. Women were more likely to need a better combination of parenthood (17% compared with men at 6%) and work and gender equality (women at 5% compared to men at less than 1%) – men were more likely to want a work-life balance and compensation but women just want equality and opportunity.

When asked what would play the most significant role in helping to reduce burnout, physicians said that they would appreciate improved compensation (45%), more manageable work and schedules (42%), fewer government regulations (27%), and more respect from colleagues/employers/staff (39%).

Leading Causes of Physician Burnout

This year’s report is one that truly captures the complexities of being a physician in the modern era. Admin and bureaucratic tasks are the number one cause of burnout at 58%, with spending too long at work (37%), lack of control and autonomy (28%), and stress from social distancing and COVID-19 issues (16%) contributing to the physician burden. Too much time is spent doing tasks that are admin and compliance related, time that could be better spent caring for patients and managing workloads more efficiently. This is a critical point that has yet to be optimally addressed to support healthcare practitioners in achieving their goals. Practitioners need more time to focus on what they do best – healthcare – and less time taken away from them to manage mundane, tedious and regulatory tasks that limit their efficacy and workplace happiness.

Physician burnout is not a mental health issue, it’s a syndrome brought on by unending challenges in the healthcare sector. As already highlighted by the Medscape survey, time is one of the leading causes of physician burnout as there isn’t enough given to physicians to fully realize their roles and quality of life. This is further impacted by admin, patients, colleagues, workplace conditions and the pandemic. Physician burnout treatment involves the need to make a lasting impact on physician well-being through improved efficiencies, investment into supporting technologies and reducing the overall admin burden.

The Role of AI in Improving Efficiencies

While poorly implemented solutions and endless technology implementations and regulations can have a negative impact on physician workloads and well-being, there is immense potential in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that can not only support the physician in their role, but reduce their admin burden. There are multiple innovations in the field today – innovations that automate basic tasks, that pull admin away from the physician and into the algorithm-driven back-end, and that translate huge volumes of work into simple workflows that can prioritize time and urgency. Improved efficiencies could be a strong contributor to physician burnout treatment in 2021.

ai diagnostic imaging

Aidoc, a leading AI platform for the radiology sector, has long been providing physicians with support that they need to manage extraordinary workloads. The radiologist has not only been left with unbelievably weighty imaging volumes thanks to the pandemic, but has had to juggle different complexities around virus management that have impacted on time and patient care. Aidoc provides seamless PACs integration and an intuitive user experience that provides the radiologist with a third pair of hands, a second pair of eyes that never sleep. With the platform in place, radiologists are assured of a tool that can help them in prioritizing acute cases, empowering them to maintain their quality while increasing efficiency and improving their work-life balance. Designed to augment the role, not replace it, Aidoc has the right tools in place to minimize disruption to the radiologist during implementation while seamlessly shifting the admin burden away from their shoulders. The latest solution for Pulmonary Embolism (PE) care coordination even facilitates rapid risk assessment across the entire clinical workflow, further simplifying the coordination of care in time-sensitive situations. 

There is immense value in AI as a tool to reducing the pressure put on physicians, not only in terms of admin, but also in improving workflows and workloads. The right solutions can make a noticeable difference to quality of working life and reducing the risk of burnout. AI and deep learning platforms offer numerous benefits to the radiology profession that include streamlined workflows, time-saving support, increased capacity, and improved diagnosis reliability. This minimizes pressure on the radiologist as they know that they are supported and they can improve their levels of patient care.

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