Back to the Foundation
While healthcare burnout has always been a concern, the level of burnout over the last two years has soared among healthcare professionals. Several studies have shown the pandemic has amplified burnout and is continuing to worsen. With staffing shortages, work overload, and pandemic-related stress, healthcare professionals are feeling the toll of an already stressed industry. Many healthcare professionals are feeling fatigued, depressed, and mentally distressed – the pandemic continues to amplify these feelings.
Now more than ever, healthcare workers are experiencing extreme levels of burnout as the existing workforce continues to decline. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans employed in the health sector remains 2.7% lower than in February 2020. Healthcare workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic to find other opportunities, while others have been laid off or temporarily absent due to emerging variants. Many healthcare workers who have kept their jobs during the pandemic have considered leaving for new opportunities. The national worker shortage has affected nearly every hospital and medical office.
In the nursing profession specifically, many are retiring now instead of waiting. Other nurses have found other industries to use their skills. This is creating a healthcare crisis. Patient-nurse staffing ratios are increasing creating work overload.
The healthcare industry was a demanding industry pre-pandemic. Now, “demanding” does not clearly define the healthcare industry. The cost of healthcare worker burnout can be felt across the industry. Physicians and nurses who are burned out may experience a variety of symptoms, including poor energy, tiredness, compassion fatigue, insomnia, and anger, as well as a sense of hopelessness in their work; they may even seek comfort in alcohol and drugs. Burnout may result in a decreased quality of treatment for patients, as physicians who are under physical and emotional stress are more prone to make errors that result in poorer health outcomes.
The healthcare worker burnout precedes the pandemic, due to high patient demand, a shortage of clinical specialists, and the stress of practicing medicine in a fast-paced, high-pressure atmosphere. At times, patient care is minimized to less than effective to handle the workload. Something needs to change to reduce healthcare worker burnout!
A single approach will not solve burnout in the healthcare industry. Providing the basic needs of supplies, resources, and staffing will help in developing the foundation back to patient safety and care. Providing communication tools for needs between departments and stakeholders will develop opportunities for improvement. These opportunities will create the steps towards better patient safety.
For many organizations, one way to address burnout begins with making your staff’s lives easier by giving them the right technology. Technology alone will not cure the nation’s healthcare burnout crisis, but it can improve efficiency and reduce stress. Technology, in combination with better resource allocation and clearer communication, is a critical component in reducing the industry-wide consequences of healthcare professional burnout.
Another way to decrease healthcare burnout is to establish staffing standards for hospitals that include specific patient-to-staff ratios. Develop a committee to focus on maintaining and enforcing hospital staffing standards. Existing break and overtime laws need to be enforced to ensure hospitals are complying with regulations.
Providing the proper tools, open communication, and staying committed to patient safety first will provide a few steps towards alleviating healthcare burnout during these unprecedented times.