With physician burnout an ever-growing concern in the medical community, technology companies are rushing to address its root cause – administrative burden.
Specifically, those vendors that deal in artificial intelligence have developed products that improve pre-visit evaluations, triaging and transcribing administrative billing. They also positively impact the manner in which lab work is processed. In all, 500 healthcare AI companies raised some $12 billion in 2021, and not a moment too soon, considering the precarious state of clinicians’ well-being.
Forty-two percent of the physicians responding to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021, which saw 12,000 doctors canvassed between Aug. 30 and Nov. 5, 2020, said they were burned out, and the No. 1 reason mentioned was administrative tasks. Another study, released in June 2021, showed that 44 percent of doctors believed the pandemic pushed burnout to an all-time high, though both studies concluded it was a significant concern, even before the outbreak occurred.
When the pandemic was at its height, it was as if doctors were “running a sprint and a marathon at the same time,” as Susan Hingle, past chair of the American College of Physicians (ACP), told the website Medical Economics – i.e., they were juggling the short- and long-term impact of the virus.
Even as the pandemic has abated to some degree, those administrative burdens remain. And the resulting burnout leads to turnover and absenteeism, while also imperiling patients. The probability of medical errors and negative outcomes increases under such circumstances.
This has not escaped the notice of the federal government. As U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a May 2022 news release accompanying a report on burnout:
“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority. COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. Now, we owe them a debt of gratitude and action. And if we fail to act, we will place our nation’s health at risk.”
The report went on to mention several steps to curtail burnout, not the least of which was maintaining staffing levels in healthcare facilities, which has been a focal point of the Biden Administration – especially the levels in nursing homes. But in the private sector, the emphasis remains on AI. In fact, it is expected that the amount spent on healthcare AI, which stood at $3.9 billion in 2019, will increase to $107 billion by 2027.
There is the belief among some, like Farzad Soleimani, an assistant professor in emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and a partner at the San Francisco-based venture-capital firm 1984 Ventures, that AI can in time “turn every physician into a super-physician.” That’s because, Soleimani told the website Fast Company, clinicians must ultimately “learn to recognize patterns,” specifically in data.
AI can do that more quickly and efficiently. And that will, at least in theory, reduce physicians’ administrative workload, and along with it, the possibility of burnout. Doctors would then be free to focus their attention where it should always be – on the patient.