How has telehealth contributed to physician burnout throughout the pandemic?
The pandemic and physician burnout seem to be two buzzwords that will be within our usual vocabulary for days, months, and years to come. Telehealth also appears like it is here to stay and it is pushing already overwhelmed physicians to the brink. While this form of virtual visits aren’t new, the pandemic brought its popularity to a head to reduce exposure risk. This surge in use left many facilities battling with technology, lack of personnel, connectivity issues, and a rise in physician burnout.
In the earlier part of the year, most of the country was shut down due to lock downs in many states. Elective surgeries were postponed to enable critically ill patients access to care. This shutdown was put in place to protect patients when exposure risks were high. Patients that weren’t in need of critical care still needed access to doctors, and this is where telehealth came into play. HealthcareITNews states that the pre-pandemic telehealth visits could be around a dozen but it quickly grew to hundreds, or thousands depending on the type of healthcare system.
For many organizations, rolling out telehealth visits on a larger scale would take weeks… months, even upwards of a year depending on clinic size. This rush to provide virtual video visits at a larger volume put a lot of strain on already overwhelmed clinicians. Some teams shifted from their old telehealth solution to a new one to accommodate the amount of visits. Other teams simply said “it just has to work” and took steps to make it happen.
Telehealth visits on a wider scale came with their problems, especially with a quick roll out. Facilities faced having to educate a wide array of patients on the platform. They dealt with connectivity issues. Some clinics struggled to figure out if they could make the solution work with their bottom line overall up until Medicare access was expanded. The “make it happen” moment didn’t happen for all practices and some couldn’t simply “make it work.” Practices came to a close, some temporarily and others permanently. Those that remain open are experiencing burnout, some directly related to telehealth use.
For many providers, they have accepted that telehealth may be the new normal of care delivery, to a certain degree. With that being said, virtual visits does not, for many, make them feel fulfilled as a care provider. Telehealth still puts distance between a provider and the patient – though there is face time, it is not in-person. According to Dr. Caitlin Sgarlat Deluca, Information Technology Physician Advisor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, utilizing telehealth leads to physician burnout because it’s often isolating for providers.
This all leads to a sense of team for providers – they aren’t able to connect with their colleagues if their providing care from home virtually. Those quick day-to-day interactions are lost. Providers have widely lost control over many processes they were accustomed to when means of care switch to largely virtual means. This can create a sense of dissatisfaction in their work, or just feeling generally overwhelmed about healthcare as a whole.
To add to this, there are other burnout factors that are unique to telehealth that are worth noting. With virtual visits, we are completely relying on technology to speak with patients. As we all know, technology’s reliability cannot be trusted. It often glitches. When this happens, we cannot hear, maybe not even see patients. This can be frustrating for both patients and providers. Another variable that adds to burnout is that sometimes telehealth is not the proper way for a patient to be seen. Often a provider doesn’t know this until after a visit starts. This can lead to follow ups for lab work, x-rays, or an office visit at a later date. A third thing to consider with telehealth is that there is no longer front desk staff creating a buffer when wait times grow. Patients may drop off and assume technology is glitching, that they did something wrong, or leave all together.
Benefits of Telehealth
While telehealth can lead to physician burnout, especially for organizations with large patient loads during a pandemic, it does have benefits. Some of the benefits of telehealth include the following:
- Increase patient load
- Increase profits to improve your bottom line
- Improve patient communication and accessibility
- Reach more patients in underserved areas
- Increase practice efficiency
- Cut patient costs
- Travel, time, potentially money depending on insurance
- Reduce overhead costs
As with any technology, there can be growing pains, and telehealth is no different. If providers at your practice are experiencing feelings of isolation, talk to them and create processes to combat those negative emotions. All of us are experiencing a ‘new normal’ right now and it is important that we check in on those around us. If a clinician at your practice is exhibiting signs of burnout, be sure to reach out.
Are you looking for a telehealth solution to help keep your practice afloat during the pandemic? If you are ready to reap the benefits of a telehealth solution, MicroMD Virtual Visits powered by Medpod can help. Visit us today at micromd.com/marketplace or call us at 800.624.8832.
About the author,
Savanna is the Marketing Communication Specialist at Henry Schein MicroMD. She schedules emails to clients, prospects, and VARs, manages social media accounts, performs SEO research, writes blogs and eBooks, and much more while helping to support the simple yet powerful MicroMD solutions.
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