Calls for healthcare to do more to embrace technology as a means to improve care delivery must first address whether such changes add to or ease the burden of a workforce that's been beleaguered by the pandemic.
Advancements made in the use of digital tools like telehealth, remote patient monitoring and predictive analytics have been touted throughout the pandemic for helping healthcare organizations address the access challenges caused by months of limited in-person patient contact at many facilities.
But it's critical that stakeholders ensure these innovations make life for easier, not harder, for clinical and administrative workers. That was an overarching message from leaders during Modern Healthcare's 2021 Transformation Summit held virtually May 18-19.
"We all recognize that electronic health records are critical, but I think the complaint that we have had is this 'innovation' has put more work on the back of nurses and doctors and pharmacists and technicians. We've got to solve that," said Dr. Rod Hochman, CEO of Providence and current chair of the American Hospital Association, during the summit's opening keynote address.
The pandemic helped to accelerate the conditions that have led to a growing problem of burnout among healthcare professionals.
A survey of more than 1,100 healthcare workers conducted from June through September 2020 by Mental Health America found 76% reported experiencing burnout and exhaustion while 75% reported feeling overwhelmed.
Ketul Patel, CEO of Seattle-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health system, part of CommonSpirit Health, said it became apparent early in the pandemic that home-life pressures were as much of a source of stress among clinicians as treating COVID-19 patients. Virginia Mason created a care-at-work benefits fund that employees can use to pay for day care or pet care services. Patel said a second fund was created during the pandemic to provide workers with support for needs like rent assistance or paying for utilities and buying groceries.
"We looked for areas that would make our team and our staff's lives easier outside of work," Patel said.
Dr. Janice Nevin, CEO for Wilmington, Del.-based, ChristianaCare, said while much of the focus on technology has been to provide clinical care, she saw "enormous opportunities" in healthcare to apply it toward reducing waste and easing some of the workload.
ChristianaCare started to automate some of its administrative functions and is looking at efficient ways to allow for more of their nonclinical staff to work from home.
"Our mantra here is that everything that can be digital will be and everything that can be done in the home will be," Nevin said.