It is no national secret that the UK’s frontline healthcare workers have been overworked and under-supported for far too long. They have been at the coalface in responding to the Covid-19 outbreak for nearly two chaotic years. It’s a credit to them that the UK’s healthcare standards remain so high. The effort to cope with the influx of hospitalisations has been seismic as departments ran at more than 200% capacity, with some non-Covid-19 patients having to be treated in theatre spaces. The human capacity of our workers also increased as NHS staff had 50% more patient contact than it had pre-pandemic. Nobody can fault the efforts of healthcare staff and nobody can blame them for any inevitable burnout following such a long, difficult period.
As Covid measures now begin to lift, our fatigued healthcare staff now face a hidden backlog of six million patients who delayed treatment because of the pandemic. The effects of the burnout are already taking their toll, as more than 27,000 medics left the NHS in the third quarter of last year. This is the highest number on record and approximately 2% of the entire workforce, according to NHS England figures. Almost 7,000 staff also left due to concerns about their work-life balance between July and September last year, the single biggest reason for leaving apart from contracts ending". Industry anxiety is set to continue, as hospitals could see as many as one in six doctors and nurses off sick throughout 2022. With extra government funding seemingly capped at a 1% pay rise, fresh digital capabilities are needed to offer the support that healthcare workers need and deserve.
Admittedly, the pandemic has forced healthcare providers to prioritise a digital transformation. Significant advances have been made in areas such as telehealth to deliver immediate care to patients unable or unwilling to attend in-person appointments. However, the welcomed technology has primarily been prescribed as a treatment for patient engagement. The strides taken in digital healthcare do not yet address staff burnout. So, it’s how we manage their workload and hectic schedules that next need to go under the knife.
How to address healthcare employees’ burnout with digitisation
Against this backdrop, what is in store for the next phase of healthcare innovation? To better support healthcare staff with the myriad of tasks they tackle daily and reduce burnout, leaders must ensure they are freed from time-consuming manual processes. But just how much administrative paperwork can be moved online? How can staff receive better on-the-spot guidance to support them as they work through their tasks? And how can digitalisation support healthcare workers in managing their efficiency, thereby reducing employee attrition?
Intelligent Operations are helping the healthcare industry move forward with real-time information systems that guide and support staff. They do this by allowing digital assistants to take care of repetitive manual activities and guide best practices. This translates to lower levels of staff burnout, as more time is freed up for the work that not only matters but is meaningful, such as increasing the throughput of diagnostic services, blood screening and other supporting services. By delivering step-by-step best practice guidance to mobile devices, healthcare employers can also strengthen confidence, compliance, and consistency. Mobile solutions put processes directly into the hands of the people who need them, prompting and guiding both scheduled and unscheduled work.
Crucially, burnout-free benefits can also be achieved by harnessing the power of IoT. Automated sensor monitoring is one of the fastest and most valuable areas of IoT innovation, helping to alleviate tedious monitoring exercises that congest staff schedules. For example, by automating sensor-driven alerts and prompting corrective action, Southend University Hospital can monitor everything from two hospital sites in real-time with the click of a button, ensuring rapid resolution time to minimise disruption to staff members who must focus on providing care. Furthermore, IoT captures and comprehends real-time data from the workplace, generating actionable insights. Businesses are gaining a better understanding of demand patterns from IoT-driven data, helping to minimise waste and deliver customers the right products at the right times. A true instance of enhancing operational efficiency. IoT insights often illuminate common pinch points, inefficiencies, and blockers, also enabling managers to adjust procedures and direct training or support to the teams that need it most. With staff attrition rates continuing their ascent, pertinent training and support is one of the most sincere and impactful responses healthcare leaders can give.
Looking ahead: Empowering healthcare workers with deeper digitisation
The next phase of our pandemic recovery will see a healthcare overload remain constant even while Covid cases make a hoped-for decline. Work will shift away from treating infected patients and towards providing postponed medical care. This threatens a dangerous equilibrium; as the pandemic’s effects ease, so does the support of healthcare workers. A workforce that is already 50% more likely to experience high levels of work-related stress compared with the general working population.
In this critical year of transition, the leaders of our healthcare industry must be proactive. It is paramount that we continue healthcare system improvement through innovation by integrating digital capabilities with our workforce. If not, the industry loses the people whose life mission is caring for others to their own collective collapse. A collapse that will be difficult to rehabilitate. It’s easier to make changes now that will boost retention and keep skills in-house.
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