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Our healthcare system has a burnout problem: Doctors and nurses, bogged down by endless administrative tasks and the aftereffects of a global pandemic are dissatisfied and dropping out of the workforce. 

But technology may ride to the rescue, as modern technology innovations and an aggressive IT catch-up push in the healthcare industry promise to peel back much of the drudgery and administrative burden physicians are carrying. 

While the issue of burnout amongst physicians isn’t a new trend, the steep increase in dissatisfaction reported by doctors and nurses is. In a recent study from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, almost two-thirds of doctors (63%) reported signs of burnout, up nearly 20% from 2017. 

Certainly the stress of the COVID pandemic contributed greatly to physicians’ declining mental well-being. Just 30 percent of physicians felt satisfied with their work-life balance in 2022, compared with 43 percent five years earlier. 

Another major contributor has been the administrative burden thrust on physicians by the American healthcare system. No physician chose their profession because of a love of paperwork, but recordkeeping and basic communication is now a growing part of a doctor’s workload. Physicians reported they spent an average of 15 hours a week on paperwork, and a third of them said they spend 20 or more hours on it

That’s roughly half a normal work week spent on non-patient care tasks. Medical professionals find themselves at the mercy of endless insurance forms, patient emails, and administrative demands. 

That’s where AI and workflow automation technologies will play a role. Solving the issue of physician burnout will require improvements to the dated and lagging IT systems many medical practices still use, particularly in these areas:

Tech-powered patient onboarding and communications

The medical field, despite leading in scientific research, still lags dramatically behind other industries when it comes to adopting even the most basic administrative technologies. It wasn’t until the federal government introduced an electronic health record mandate in 2015 through the MIPS program that many practices even began keeping digital files on their patients. As a result, there has been no data available for automating administrative tasks until recently. 

Less than a decade ago, patients were still being handed physical paperwork to fill out ahead of their appointments. While individuals can book everything from haircuts to oil changes online, patients at many practices still need to call and talk to office personnel to find an appointment time. 

There are many technologies on the market today that can move the appointment management process online, booking patients, verifying their insurance, and enabling them to do the paperwork online ahead of coming into the office. Rather than spending costly labor hours helping patients navigate preliminary processes, utilizing chatbots and online schedulers can unburden practices to focus that energy on patient care. 

Clinical information capture

Documenting patient visits is an essential part of the modern healthcare process; in order to get paid, doctors have to document every part of the patient visit to prepare and code forms for insurance. The result is that doctors spend almost as much time documenting the visit as they do actually caring for the patient.

Implementing natural language processing tools, and AI-based technology that can understand and transcribe the recorded conversation with patients, can help alleviate much of the demands on doctors. With the technology able to record the visit and populate the patient’s medical record, physicians can spend less time looking at their computer screen, and more time connecting with their patient, improving both the quality of care received, as well as the mental health of our physicians. 

Insurance claim management

In our multi-payer healthcare system, doctors are as vulnerable to the whims of the insurance companies as patients are. Each doctor has a different contract with each insurance company specifying a different contract for every single procedure. Coding the procedures properly for each insurance company is an incredibly burdensome process that can require multiple steps per procedure, along with significant follow up steps that are demanded before payment is made. Claims by doctors are denied 30% of the time, and even after reworking the claim, still 15% of claims are denied. 

Automated coding tools (aka autonomous coding) that use rules processing engines to appropriately code patient visits can dramatically simplify the process for medical providers. By eliminating the need for back and forth code negotiations with insurance companies, smaller practices can more quickly get paid and ease their administrative burdens. An additional solution is a digital collections calculator that systematically identifies and quantifies payment shortfalls and reasons for the shortfalls so that follow up efforts can be prioritized.

End-to-end health process management

It comes as no surprise that in an industry as technologically far behind as the medical field, there lacks a single end-to-end solution; one that can automate the patient journey to alleviate the recordkeeping pressures on physicians. 

The manufacturing industry figured it out in the 80s, developing manufacturing requirements planning tools (MRPs) and enterprise resource planning tools that help businesses of all types streamline their process and services. MRP technologies tie everything together so that sales orders data automatically generates production schedules, purchasing requirements, and tracks each order all the way to the customer.

Rather than continuing with piecemeal solutions, the healthcare industry needs to work towards standards that allow an integrated solution that can capture the entire patient cycle, from booking the appointment to getting treatment to managing insurance and follow-up. The healthcare industry has fragmented technology solutions across the value chain similar to manufacturing had before MRP, decades ago.

With so many solutions on the market to help doctors and practices get their systems online and automated, ensuring that these systems work together and talk to one another will help to transform the American healthcare system. 

High administrative hurdles are costing the American healthcare system time and money — but it doesn’t need to be that way. 

In a system that’s still straining under the weight of the pandemic, these tools won’t solve every issue facing physicians. But improving healthcare’s dated IT infrastructure may provide the burnout relief our docs are looking for. 

Mead Monger is the the Founder & CEO of Century Goal, a dynamic company that combines operations, technology, accounting, and economic analyses to improve healthcare operations and financial performance. In this article Meade explores the reality of integrated information technology and how it can help alleviate physician burnout.

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