Covid-19 impact: Integrating technology with healthcare to tackle physician burnout

April 10, 2021 12:56 PM

There are many patient touch points that need not be dealt with by physicians directly.

There has never been a more important time for physicians to assess how they can optimize their time and bandwidth to focus on patient care vs. administrative chores.

By Sunil Raheja

There has never been a more important time for physicians to assess how they can optimize their time and bandwidth to focus on patient care vs. administrative chores.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more strain on a healthcare system that is already struggling with the high demand on it’s physicians for direct patient care. There has never been a more important time for physicians to assess how they can optimize their time and bandwidth to focus on patient care vs. administrative chores. There are many aspects of healthcare and patient care that could be taken care of by technology as opposed to a physician or clinician directly being available. In India, the demand on doctors for direct patient care is challenging. With the growing need for providing access to care and improving the quality of care, the need of the hour is to have doctor-centric solutions. It is time that healthcare organizations leverage technological advancements in healthcare to unburden physicians, like digitization of healthcare records, telemedicine, using big data analytics for pattern recognition, using voice for ordering lab tests (Natural language processing), automating many of the repetitive tasks, radiology solutions and clinical decision-making tools.

There are many patient touch points that need not be dealt with by physicians directly. We inspect four such aspects of healthcare that can be enhanced by technology, thereby taking the administrative load off the physicians.

Out-patient Care: Large healthcare organizations in India struggle with keeping up with the demand on the system at the moment. With job opportunities opening up at multi-city expanse, India is experiencing huge numbers of mobilization of the workforce. This means that one physician would typically treat a patient from birth until later years, which is not the case anymore. Now that the workforce is changing cities frequently, we urgently need to have historical medical data of the patient available at all times. This would enable physicians to review the patient history easily at one-click of the button, eliminating the time lag and cost for repeated tests. Easy access to lab reports and radiology reports can also unburden physicians, this can be managed once there is an online system that caters to multiple platforms with easy synchronisation of software. This feature should also be widely available to independent primary care practitioners as well as specialists. One looming concern that India faces at this time is that prescriptions do not have any end date, which could potentially lead to adverse outcomes. Physicians write prescriptions and patients get access to that at pharmacists endlessly. It is important that there are regulations put in place to curb this. Prescription management and re-order can be managed with technology integration that makes sure that the dosage, frequency, and revision of the prescriptions is done in a timely manner with adherence to local regulations.

In-Patient Care: Specific to India, amidst many concerns that can be resolved through technology, there are two overarching challenges that can ease the burden on physicians in a hospital set-up. First, the mammoth paperwork that hospitals have to deal with. This paperwork carries through with the patient from the time of admission to discharge. This not only increases the administrative burden on physicians manifolds but is also at the risk of being misplaced during patient movement and transfers. Hospitals need to build in a robust technological solution that helps with mitigating the need for any paperwork and has easy access through screens, handheld devices, and computers. Electronic health records would also improve the quality of care and ease up the burden on the doctors with easy access to historical data, any allergies, previous procedures, medications and family history. Second, the seamless coordination with insurance companies. Due to the heavy paperwork that the patient needs during their hospital stay, discharge/checkout becomes a pain point, both for the hospital as well as the patients. Easy access to health records would save many hours for the physicians, support staff, and patients, thus improving hospital efficiency and patient experience.

Care coordination: Care coordination for both outpatient and inpatient care is an arduous task, especially if the number of patients per physician is higher. Automation can play a vital role in bridging the gap between patient and physicians. For chronic patients, platforms and apps can enable answering some standard questions, can help them understand their symptoms and guide patients for the next doctor’s appointment armed with the right questions. Monitoring medication adherence can enhance the effectiveness of wellness programs. This would allow physicians to be in constant touch with the patient, resulting in quicker and faster actions without the need to interact in-person. The post covid world has also taught us the importance of remote patient monitoring, this brings us to the importance of medical devices that can monitor and report patient vitals to the physicians, using technologies like IoT.

Access to care. Another important aspect of healthcare has come to fore during the pandemic is telemedicine. While telemedicine was an existing consultation practice in the US but given the pandemic, it has gained acceptance with the insurance companies and is being practiced effectively during this time. In India, access to care has been a challenge, and telemedicine is a fairly new concept amongst physicians. The utility and efficacy of telemedicine can be far-reaching beyond the pandemic. The challenges with access in India can be attributed to our vast geography, lack of good healthcare organizations in remote locations, dearth of specialists in rural areas, affordability of high-quality care and so on. Technology can deliver care to patients that face these challenges, creating platforms and apps that can speak with each other to create a network of primary care physicians and specialists from across geography. This will convenience patients to take consultation from specialists or seek a second opinion as need arises.

Technology is one answer to make healthcare better, however one of the biggest challenges is the interoperability of all these platforms using industry standards. While standalone platforms can tick each of the aspects discussed above independently, we need to make them converse with each other collectively. And that is a significant innovation that technology has in its offing. One of the obvious answers to this is cloud computing, allowing patients to have access to all their information no matter which healthcare organization, physician, or geographical location they are at. This will not only improve the quality and access to care, but also reduce the cost of care significantly. Lessening the burden of administration, repetitive tasks on physicians, and giving better insights to physicians, thus lowering physician burnout. Healthcare organizations, small and big, need to look at deep technology integration to drive population health outcomes with rich data, analytics, and innovation.

(The author is Chief Operations Officer, IKS Health. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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