Clinicians are continually asked to do more with less. What it comes down to is more time spent in the electronic health record (EHR) and less time engaging with patients and family. An article published by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests there is a “profound lack of alignment between caregivers’ values and the reconfigured health care system.” This misalignment has contributed significantly to clinician burnout, which has reached record levels and the cost for which have skyrocketed. It is estimated that physician turnover and a reduction in clinical hours due to burnout has reached $4.6 billion a year in the U.S. That equates to $7,600 per employed physician.
Workflows around documentation are a significant area of contention. Recent research shows that a fourth of documentation happens during office free time, at the end of the workday, or after leaving the office. Another third is done during the patient visit. When clinicians are focused on entering data into the computer, they’re not spending that time eye-to-eye with the patient. And it’s that clinician-patient encounter that is at the heart of why clinicians enter the field of medicine.
Where We Stand Now
There have been several proposed interventions to address burnout, many of which have focused on things like mindfulness-based stress-reduction techniques. But research shows these have little impact. They also don’t get at the heart of the problem—the increased time burden around documentation and other administrative tasks.
More than half of all clinicians surveyed said they feel burned out due to documentation and other administrative tasks.
More forward-thinking organizations have turned to artificial intelligence (AI) in an effort to reduce the burden of documentation on clinicians. However, AI—for now—falls short, especially in primary care and emergency medicine where patient conversations and health information exchanged can vary in quality and level of detail. AI doesn’t yet have the ability to accurately replicate or provide the necessary contextual meaning or intent underlying those conversations in more complex or multi-party clinical environments.
A more effective approach is a hybrid solution that still leverages AI but keeps a human in the loop. AI-powered automation tools, when combined with specialty trained virtual scribes, become a dynamic duo that acts as an extension of the clinician’s care team. It’s a more practical approach that automates substantial portions of the medical note while also enabling more intelligent, customized content.
AI, when paired with a virtual scribe, can save clinicians close to three hours a day on documentation and administrative tasks while improving productivity by up to 20%. Based on clinician surveys, this combined solution can increase work-life satisfaction by 40%. One thing I’ve heard over and over again is that clinicians appreciate having more time to engage with their patients in free-flowing conversations. The result is increased operational efficiency at both the clinician and practice level, reduced physician turnover, and enhanced patient satisfaction. In many cases, clinicians gain the capacity to see more patients or accept more urgent referrals.
The benefit of using virtual scribes with AI goes even beyond documentation efficiencies. Since AI streamlines the entire documentation process, scribes are able to increase their impact by taking on additional tasks such as working down charting backlogs and placing orders for things such as testing, medications, and labs. They can also help increase the efficiency of each patient visit by updating the physician prior to walking into the exam room, enabling them to spend less time reviewing the patient’s history in the EHR so they can get right to the issue at hand.
A Better Approach
Each patient is different. AI and machine learning alone aren’t able to capture and accurately document all the intricate nuances that make up a patient’s health and unique situation. A hybrid solution that keeps the human in the loop is the best of both worlds and is the most effective way to capture clinical conversations today. The bottom line is a better patient experience and reduced clinician burnout.