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  • Writer's pictureBruce Cummings

Wait. What? AI Won’t Slay All The Dragons in Healthcare?

The annual Physician Sentiment Survey (PSS) conducted on behalf of AthenaHealth by Harris Polling recently queried some 1,000 US physicians.  The results were reported by Athena Health in a February 21 article, “As clinician burnout rises, how can technology help?”, written by Athena Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Nele Jessel, MD. 

Denizens of the clinician wellness/burnout prevention community will not be surprised to know that the survey showed:

> 93% of physicians in this survey report feeling burned out

> 49% say their workload is untenable and unsustainable

> 64% say they are overwhelmed by administrative requirements

> 60% report feeling overwhelmed by excessive patient communication

> 91% said regulatory requirements are becoming still more onerous

> Physicians are spending an additional 15 hours outside of “normal” business hours on average per week 

Against this backdrop, 83% of the physician respondents said they believed AI held the potential to “eventually alleviate many of the problems facing healthcare…by tak(ing) on administrative work and increas(ing) efficiencies so physicians can have more face time with patients,” according to Dr. Jessel.

Can AI Really Help Alleviate Burnout in Hospitals and Overburdened Health Practices?

While I, too, believe AI can be an important advance in ameliorating the staggering burden physicians face with data entry, coding and other administrative tasks, routine patient follow-up and related communications, I don’t believe it will be the silver bullet that cures all of what ails hospitals, health systems, and group practices.  

Outdated organizational policies and procedures won’t be cured by AI.  Neither will a relative dearth of clinician autonomy in decision-making about hospital operations.  AI won’t address the stunning degree of estrangement even hostility many clinicians feel via-a-vis senior leaders.  While it may dramatically improve the now clunky EHR, AI alone won’t address unnecessarily complex and inefficient work processes (eg,  streamlining the administrative process to secure approval for staffing changes, correcting problematic internal supply chains, moving patients from the ED to an inpatient unit on a timely basis) or promote greater teamwork and alignment around organizational priorities.  

To achieve those changes and to become a truly “healthy organization” — a term of art coined and deeply researched by McKinsey (see my previous blog) — will require imagining a different clinical workplace, assiduously working on inflecting organizational culture, and last but not least, embracing a multi-faceted change in leadership priorities and practices.

Organizational Wellbeing Solutions - Leadership-Driven Changes

Here are examples of leadership-driven changes my colleague Paul DeChant, MD, MBA and I often recommend to achieve organizational wellbeing:

  • expect all leaders, but especially senior executives, to do periodic job shadowing of front-line staff (where observing and deep listening are emphasized)

  • create and require leader standard work (LSW).

  • develop and deploy a sophisticated, deeply ingrained, and rigorous daily management system (DMS) supported by visual display boards or monitors

  • consistently apply one or more of the improvement sciences (Lean, six sigma, operations research, agile, design thinking) in consultation with front-line staff to improve workflow and reduce delays, waste, inefficiency, and job skill mismatches

  • invest in AI/ML solutions -- selected, tested, and endorsed by front-line staff -- that eliminate or at least markedly reduce data entry, administrative requirements, and/or repetitive tasks that are non-value add

  • invest in EHR remediation and optimization

  • regard clinicians as knowledge workers who are given significant latitude to make clinical decisions without unnecessary administrative encumbrances or delays

  • get rid of superfluous or outdated policies, procedures, redundant approvals and other stupid stuff (GROSS)

Ready to transform your hospital or workplace?

Are you frustrated by adversarial relationships between front-line clinicians and senior leadership? Organizational Wellbeing Solutions was formed to enable senior leaders to identify the specific drivers of clinician burnout in their organization; and to support leaders in designing and executing a comprehensive plan to stop clinician burnout, increase retention, and improve operating results. A hallmark of our consultancy is correcting the all-too-frequent distrust and alienation clinicians feel toward the c-suite generally and the CEO in particular. Let us help you help your organization and its clinicians develop a more trusting, aligned, and productive working relationship.


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