Mike Hobby, Healthcare Transformation Partner, Checkit, explores how healthcare transformation can put a stop to staff burnout before it becomes a pandemic itself
There is no doubting the pandemic forced healthcare providers to give urgent attention to digital transformation however there’s one issue that remains undiagnosed.
Technology adoption accelerated at an astonishing speed last year and that momentum is carrying through into 2021. According to research by Accenture, 81% of healthcare executives are continuing to speed up the pace of innovation.
Digital investment key to empowering staff
There have been huge strides in areas such as telehealth, rightly delivering more accessible and immediate care to patients unable to attend appointments in person. But without equivalent digital investment to empower staff, the impact of transformation efforts in healthcare will be limited.
A rapid response to Covid-19 doesn’t negate the longer-term imperative to build more resilient and flexible healthcare ecosystems. This will require more attention to the way healthcare teams go about their work; making best use of their skills so they can add value where it matters.
The sheer workload facing healthcare professionals today is a major concern. There’s not only a backlog of care to contend with but the threat of more hospital admissions with Covid-19 infections rising steeply in several areas.
Unrelenting staff pressure
This environment is putting huge pressure on staff. The stress has become so toxic that it risks causing staff to make mistakes leading to patient dissatisfaction and poor quality of care. This is supported by the findings of regulators such as the CQC.
It was also evidenced in a recent report from the Kings Fund, describing the chronic excessive workload in the NHS.
Authors Suzie Bailey and Michael West said: “In a context of inadequate resources including unsatisfactory levels of staffing, equipment, training and supportive leadership, workload is the number one factor predicting ever-increasing levels of staff stress.”
The authors go on to say: “There is a pathology in the health and care system that assumes the only way to manage more demand is to spin the hamster wheels ever faster.”
It’s a shocking observation, considering the times we are in, and with all the digital tools now at our disposal, there has to be a better way.
Automation removes the manual burden
We need a forensic look at the myriad tasks our healthcare teams have to tackle on a daily basis. Which repetitive tasks, such as fridge temperature monitoring, could automation remove the manual burden from staff? How much administrative paperwork could be digitised? How could staff get better on-the-spot guidance to support them as they work through their tasks?
Daily processes and procedures underpin almost every aspect of patient care and we need better ways to manage them.
With digital tools replacing repetitive manual activities and guiding best practice, we can reduce pressure on staff, freeing them to focus on patient care, reinforce consistent standards and reduce errors that are understandable in current circumstances, but also avoidable, with the right support.
Given the large proportion of temporary and agency staff required to support healthcare providers facing high demand and restricted resources – with staff absent due to illness or isolation – we have to look at ways to support staff who may be unfamiliar with specific localised requirements.
Time for traditional training and oversight is restricted. Delivering practical step-by-step best practice guidance to mobile devices can strengthen confidence and accelerate skill adoption.
Learning from manufacturing, logistics and retail sectors
Sectors such as manufacturing, logistics and retail have been transformed by investment in automation, process control, quality improvement and data capture. These enable workers to produce good quality, reliable and repeatable services. Healthcare should be no different.
However, too much of what happens in healthcare is manual, bureaucratic and mired in mountains of paper-based admin.
Paper needs to be binned
We need to eradicate backwards-looking paper-based processes, endless feedback forms and countless audits checking up on staff. There’s an opportunity to move forward with digital assistants to guide and support staff, as well as provide an automatic audit trail for compliance and regulators so that quality is embedded in the process of care.
This approach not only supports staff, but managers too. Siloed spreadsheets and paperwork restrict their view of what’s happening on the frontline – and their ability to analyse performance, implement change and work towards continuous improvement.
A year ago, we were clapping our NHS heroes. After a 1% pay rise, they’ve been dusted down and put back into a pressure cooker to deal with the biggest backlog in history, future waves of COVID and the ongoing vaccine roll-out. All of this in an environment of inefficiencies, poor processes and paperwork. It’s going to lead to staff burnout and it has to be stopped before this too becomes a pandemic. The past year has taught us about the power of data to support the fight against a pandemic. It’s now time to harness the power of data in support of healthcare workers too.
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