AI and its impact on Physician Burnout in Healthcare

There is a dire need to invest in solutions that play a role in preventing physician burnout

Read any medical publication as of late, and you’ll most likely find ‘physician burnout’ as one of the most common topics discussed under the umbrella of healthcare’s most pressing challenges. In fact, a report entitled ‘A crisis in health care: a call to action on physician burnout’, released by the Harvard School of Public Health in collaboration with the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society, has revealed serious statistics about physician burnout. Defined as the condition by which a physician loses ‘satisfaction and a sense of efficacy in their work’, physician burnout has become widespread and complex with more than 78% of respondents suffering from a sense of professional burnout. The Medscape Radiologist Lifestyle, Happiness and Burnout Report 2019, takes the findings even deeper, analyzing the factors that affect professionals within the radiology environment. The report found that only 25% of radiologists were happy or extremely happy – 44% reported that they were experiencing physician burnout in this field, putting radiology in the top 10 for specializations with the highest burnout. 

The primary factors that influence physician burnout, according to the Medscape report, are long hours, lack of control or autonomy, too many bureaucratic tasks, and feeling like ‘a cog in a wheel’. These points are reinforced by a paper published on the National Academy of Medicine website, that found working too many hours and in a specialization can increase burnout by a significant percent. The Medscape report also found that burnout saw 32% of respondent radiologists admit to making errors they would not have normally made and 14% didn’t take notes as carefully as they would have in the past. These factors, along with the cost of burnout in the healthcare profession, emphasize how important it is to invest in solutions focused on preventing physician burnout.

The burnout conundrum 

The symptoms of physician burnout vary in intensity on an individual level but the most common signs are emotional exhaustion, lack of job satisfaction, lowered motivation, depression, depersonalization, and lowered compassion and care. While many of these symptoms can relate to stress and exhaustion, it’s important to note that burnout is far deeper and can fundamentally influence a radiologist’s interest in their role and their future. For many, it can significantly reduce the care they take in their work and have them question why they are doing the job in the first place. It is the level to which professionals drop when stress and exhaustion, along with the factors mentioned above, are not dealt with in a sustainable and relevant way.

Preventing physician burnout has become critical. Especially in light of the fact that the areas in which burnout has the greatest impact are on diagnosis and admin. Both essential in light of healthcare and the profession. Additionally, it has been found that medical professionals struggle with ‘cumbersome and inefficient’ electronic health record systems. This is not the only mention of how poorly designed and integrated technology applications have fundamentally changed work satisfaction and enjoyment for the radiology profession. Preventing physician burnout should, therefore, engage with not just the emotive factors but the environmental ones as well. Less irregularity in schedules, improved access to electronic records, easier admin tasks, reduced demands on physician time to complete arduous admin tasks, deeper technology support – these will go a long way to preventing physician burnout. There is an overwhelming need to create systems that reduce burnout risk and allow for deeper physician control in their work environments – with solutions that will reduce workloads and time pressures as these two factors contribute to exhaustion, one of the primary symptoms of burnout.

There has been plenty of research into methods that can help heal radiologists and medical professionals experiencing burnout. From medication to self-care to ongoing organizational wellness programs, there are pathways to mitigating the impact and minimizing the onset of burnout. That said, there are also factors that indicate how technology can play a powerful role in either causing or preventing physician burnout. Poorly integrated systems, admin, charts and information will only add to the physician burden.  On the flip side, a technology designed specifically to enhance the working environment can add a layer of support sorely needed.

AI’s potential to mitigate burnout

Artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning solutions have been steadily finding their feet within the radiology profession, providing radiologists with an extra pair of virtual eyes (and hands) as they manage ever-increasing imaging volumes. AI and deep learning platforms offer numerous potential benefits to the radiology profession that include streamlined workflows, time-saving support, increased capacity, and improved diagnosis reliability. While AI systems could never replace the radiologist – they provide additional support, increasing confidence in a diagnosis and potentially catching missed elements with an AI-eye.

 The radiology profession is one that is ideally suited to harnessing the potential of AI-powered systems as it provides extensive data to the system allowing it to learn and evolve, potentially reducing the rate of false-positives and catching missed diagnoses when the physician is tired or overwhelmed. This also minimizes pressure on the radiologist as they know that they are supported and they can improve their levels of patient care.

Technology: a solution, not a problem in burnout

As physician burnout continues to gain a foothold in an increasingly challenging and complex healthcare environment, AI and deep learning platforms can potentially reduce admin, increase diagnostic efficiency, minimize error, and provide the radiologist with more time, freedom and ability to undertake their roles. Preventing physician burnout has become essential and technology should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Aidoc is one of the market leaders in AI-powered radiology solutions, already deployed across more than 100 sites and capable of detecting high-level visual abnormalities. The company has obtained the CE mark for three algorithms and been cleared by the FDA for use in the clinical radiology environment. Aidoc is a proven technology that supports the radiologist in their role, reducing time spent and improving workflows with the goal of driving improved patient care and physician support.

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