The timing couldn’t be more critical for us to start making serious headway to reduce the growing problem of burnout among America’s physicians. In 2018, physician burnout was already at an alarming 42%, but that number is growing as COVID-19 cases surge around the country.
While we are at a hopeful place in the virus’ trajectory with millions of vaccinations administered, the reality – even once we get through the pandemic – is quite grim for physicians and their workloads.
But not everything about the future of a physician’s workload is bleak. We are at a rare and exciting intersection where healthcare industry data that has been accumulating meets computational resources that can handle that data. In the past, we had the data but not the computational resources – at least not those that were affordable and accessible for most physicians and their offices. Technology has been evolving, and innovation has been swift, to get to the point where we can build tools and solutions that a doctor’s office can actually afford and implement without much effort.
Tech (finally) unlocks the opportunity to do more
In healthcare, we’ve asked physicians and their teams to do more – charting, paperwork, patient care, etc. – without doing enough to help them manage that additional burden. This, of course, is a major driver of those high and growing physician burnout numbers. What has me hopeful and optimistic today is the fact that we are finally at a place where technology can help remove some of that burden while helping provider teams do more, and do it more effectively – all with a focus on delivering care to patients (the reason they got into healthcare).
Why now? Because we find ourselves at the intersection of finally having both access to the vast amounts of data that has been accumulating and the computational resources that can handle that data.
Take for example our ability to track real-time health data in order to predict risk for an adverse event in the hospital, such as cardiac arrest, falls, or pressure ulcers. We now have artificial intelligence and machine learning-based tools capable of using that data to prevent adverse events like those from happening and improve clinical outcomes.
AI as superhero
When I talk to physicians and their teams, I find myself fielding a lot of questions about all that AI can take over or replace. That’s where the education comes in; in most instances, the technology does not replace workflows but rather supercharges them.
Over the next 12 months and beyond, I anticipate we’ll notice a shift in how we talk about healthcare. Rather than a large focus on the “sensational” technology-driven changes (i.e., surgery robots), we will instead focus on how technology can be applied to enhance the capabilities of teams that exist today. For example, a patient might complete an appointment at her doctor’s office and not notice anything different, but the staff’s workflow will have improved in such a way that their time spent on that patient – particularly the related paperwork – will be cut in half.
Another example: Medical coding audits. Consider this statistic: More than $262 billion in claims are initially denied every year largely due to insufficient clinical information, $28 billion of which are due to a lack of clinical documentation. Given that coding is a key step that can impact each part of the revenue cycle after it, the process of ensuring it’s done accurately is critically important. And yet, conducting audits regularly and consistently is not an option due to lack of resources, both financially and on a personnel level. If we add the right AI-powered technology to the process, we won’t replace the auditors; we will simply enable them to do more.
A system set up to fail physicians
Today, a physician spends an average of 16 minutes on administration per patient encounter, which adds up to several hours every single day (on a normal day, a doctor sees 20 patients). No wonder we’re seeing such a high percentage of physicians who are burned out, with thousands even joining online communities to discuss quitting the field.
But just because this is where we are doesn’t mean it’s where we have to go. The introduction of electronic health records (EHRs) – at the time, a big step forward with regard to technology in healthcare – was meant to streamline patient records and improve the delivery of care. While EHRs did do some of that, they have also added – exponentially – to the administrative burden on physicians and their healthcare teams.
Now, we’re staring at the promise of new technology that can help us actualize (at least some of) the goals those tools set out to achieve. Over the next several months and years – especially once the healthcare industry is able to focus on priorities other than COVID-19 – we will begin to see physicians and their teams implementing solutions, such as medical coding assistants, with the specific aim of making the administration portion of their jobs easier, so they can get back to focusing their time on the delivery of patient care.
I suspect and hope I’m right, that when that happens, we will begin to see those high numbers of physician burnout come down, and physicians start reporting satisfaction in their job once again.
About Abboud Chaballout
Abboud Chaballout is the CEO and founder of Diagnoss, a digital health company on a mission to reduce the administrative burdens of medical providers on the front lines of our healthcare system by building seamless tech. At Diagnoss, he’s taking on medical coding with an AI-based coding assistant that “whispers over a doctor’s shoulders.” Find and connect with him on LinkedIn to talk AI, EHRs, and medical coding.