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COVID-19 impact | How technology can help fight physician burnout

The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and the continuous stress on physicians has brought the spotlight on burnout among medical professionals. Going ahead, technology can play a great role in reducing this load on healthcare professionals and increase the quality of healthcare

July 21, 2021 / 10:23 AM IST

Globally physicians have been overworked for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this burnout. The pandemic threw light on the susceptibility of physicians to burnout and the lack thereof of robust healthcare systems to support such situations.

While physicians have tirelessly worked to save lives during this ongoing pandemic, there have been innumerable breakdowns due to the helplessness and overwork they experienced during these times. A recent research reported that in India doctors were 1.64 times and the support staff were five times more likely to experience pandemic-related burnout.

Here are five potential upcoming post-pandemic trends and how technology might enable physicians in the delivery of care.

Team-based Care

The National Academy of Medicine’s report identifies ‘team-based care’, defined by at least two healthcare providers caring for a patient, as the possible remedy for alleviating physician burnout, thereby increasing care accountability, and improving the quality of care.

Once the pandemic is put behind us, there would be many patients that would require sustained care with even more focus on co-morbid patients; thus, the team-based care approach might gain momentum. This might also manifest itself in the creation and consolidation of more physician groups, hospital chains, and/or State-managed control hubs for managing healthcare effectively.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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It will become increasingly important that proper patient documentation be maintained, and shared electronically in an interoperable method. Technology can help with effective data management and information sharing that could take the load off the physicians — thereby increasing accuracy, mitigating errors and optimising efficiency.

Health organisations can deploy technology solutions like Natural language Processing (NLP), Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS), and Machine learning (ML) to improve the efficiency of the data. Web-based programmes that encourage collaborative care, patient engagement and self-management could be key to reducing the burden on the physicians, improving patient safety and patient outcomes.

Access To Remote Care

Virtual visits and telemedicine have not been more important than they are today. With lockdowns in various stages since March 2020, telemedicine has been central to caring for patients in need of chronic care, co-morbid conditions, and OPT cases. Virtual visits have their merits in helping reduce physician burnout, as it allows them to care for their patients without burdening them with the responsibility of logistics. It has also allowed physicians to care for patients throughout the lockdown, making healthcare accessible to a wider pool of end users. With a combination of electronic health records, access to video-based consultation and convenience of receiving reports electronically, telemedicine is integral to healthcare now.

Skilling Medical Professionals

The pandemic has emphasised the large volume and skill gap that India faces within the healthcare profession. There are several technology start-ups that are taking cues from the Ed-tech industry and merging medical devices with latest software advances in visualisation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ML to create simulation solutions. One example is to leverage technology to automate mundane tasks around clinical documentation to free up valuable time for clinical specialists in addition to creating new jobs and career opportunities.

Electronic Medication Management

A physician’s workflow is considerably impacted with errors in prescription refill adding significantly to the workload. Electronic medicine management can help save a physician time for prescription refill approvals, help in medication management and patient adherence. Electronic medication management can also reduce the errors in prescription refills. Alerts could play an important role in allowing patients to adhere to the medication schedule thus improving the quality of care and drug compliance among patients.

Digital Medical Records

Patient safety is one of the core objectives of improved quality of care. Adverse events that occur due to unsuitable medication can be controlled through the help of technology. With digital health records and AI’s predictive analysis, healthcare organisations can manage adverse events in patients with chronic ailments and co-morbid conditions.

While digital health records allow physicians insights into the patient’s medical history, the data can also help in highlighting the possible side effects of medication, medication's efficacy, and overall patient safety. This would save the physician hours of pouring over a patient's medical paperwork. The key foundation building block will be digitisation of the data in an interoperable format.

A world where technology would be integral to all patient touch points is not far away. The healthcare IT industry is growing at a CAGR of 15.8 percent. Technology companies are working towards creating solutions for every challenge that physicians face and take over all the mundane tasks.

We are at the precipice of a world where physicians would be able to devote their time to direct patient care, as opposed to spending hours on tasks that can be outsourced to new and emerging technology solutions.

Sunil Raheja is Chief Operations Officer, IKS Health. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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Sunil Raheja
first published: Jul 21, 2021 10:23 am