How the Health Care Industry Battles Physician Burnout With Computer Literacy

By Inga Shugalo for For the Record

In September 2021, the Journal of Medical Economics conducted research on the frequency of burnout in clinicians, with researchers finding that 80% of the interviewees suffered from burnout. Interestingly, it was not the COVID-19 pandemic that the interviewees blamed most. Instead, 31% of respondents admitted that excessive paperwork was their top burnout factor.

To reduce the paperwork’s impact, many providers have sought out health care software development to provide their employees with automation tools and to speed diagnostics, analytics, patient triage, and other activities.

However, to properly handle such tools, doctors need to have some level of computer literacy and skills. Here are the efforts at various scales that the health care industry makes to manage physician burnout with education.

Medical Staff Training: The Traditional Approach

Health care providers are well aware of the importance of IT tools in the hospital setting. Therefore, they try to make sure their medical staff learns to use those solutions.

Hospitals usually rely on one of the following three training approaches:
Dive-and-Swim Method
Under this approach, clinicians and nurses are given the production version of a health care IT solution to figure out on their own. But while quick and inexpensive, this approach can result in some serious issues with the software and the clinic’s reputation. Firstly, without a proper test drive of the software, clinicians are likely to make mistakes, which can turn into medical errors. Secondly, production versions use real patients’ data, and without security measures, it can be mishandled or leaked.

Sandbox Method
With this training model in place, clinicians learn to work in a training environment applying dummy data instead of actual health records. Despite looking like a perfect setup, this model has several disadvantages. It is expensive to maintain, and, without structured guidance, users can end up failing to learn the necessary skills.

Back-to-School Training
By choosing this approach, hospitals provide their clinicians and nurses with a training course built around the target solution’s features and workflows. However, this training method doesn’t offer any hands-on experience, and updating the course content can be a challenging task, so it can become outdated with time.

Targeted Training: The New Approach

Each traditional training model has its pros and cons. Is there an alternative approach? Check out this option. It consists of conducting the educational process simultaneously with the application development.

To make this project less stressful for medical staff, can begin with a simple computer literacy test aimed at assessing their level of computer knowledge. Then select experienced users–champions–to cooperate with the vendor’s team. The champions can teach less-experienced computer users how to manage the tool without extensive time and effort investments from the hospital.

This cooperative approach holds a lot of promise for both clinicians and vendors. For example, in 2019, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine teamed with technology experts from the University of Maryland College Park to create MIXR, the Center for Medical Innovations in Extended Reality in health care.

Updated Medical Education

Medical education has long been rejecting change. However, as the importance of information technologies for health care is growing, universities around the world have begun to introduce new subjects into medical curricula and even brand-new specialties that bridge medicine and computer science.

Training New Types of Specialists
More medical universities are offering new specialties located at the intersection of medicine and technology. Students study health care and business management technologies as well as learn the ropes of software development. As a result, graduates acquire a unique mixture of practical knowledge and skills that can be fully leveraged in the health care industry. Such digital health experts can run workshops and seminars for clinic staff to teach them how to use the new health care solutions.

Adding a New Focus
With complex digital tools entering the health care domain, medical knowledge alone may soon be insufficient for doctors. According to Deloitte, doctors are steadily changing and evolving to form eight archetypes. Each of them has various competencies driven by technologies–artificial intelligence, machine learning, Big Data, and others.

To get ready for the future, enthusiasts from the University of Toronto came up with the Computing for Medicine program, which offers a computing course adapted to the needs of medical students.

Before the training begins, students are required to take a test on overall digital literacy. As a rule, students are divided into three groups on the basis of their competence (from novice to advanced users). The course lasts for 14 months and falls into the following three stages:

  • the basics of computing and coding in Python;
  • software design and debugging; and
  • solving real-world health care problems with the help of a developed tool.

Some graduates are already applying the acquired knowledge and competencies in the clinical setting, while others reconsidered their career choices and went for a degree in programming or medical computing and relevant jobs.

Changes in the traditional approach to medical education can contribute to fostering highly qualified professionals with a comprehensive set of skills, both medical and digital. Naturally, such doctors will be less prone to develop burnout from working with digital solutions.

Summing Up

While health care IT solutions improve providers’ operations and service delivery, they also put a strain on doctors and nurses, leading them to burnout. Improving the rate of digital literacy among medical staff can improve the situation. As discussed, there are several options available to tackle this problem. No matter how the issue is addressed, the objective is to improve clinicians’ digital literacy and resolve some of the challenges they face in their daily work.

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