Is Telemedicine the Solution to Healthcare Worker Burnout?

Female healthcare worker feeling stressed at work

The burnout rate among healthcare workers has always been high. Studies show that up to 70% of healthcare workers suffered from some kind of burnout even before Covid-19 really ramped up. Burnout is a combination of physical and emotional exhaustion, negative attitudes, and the feeling of helplessness that comes from long-term stress on the job. 

COVID-19 made this all worse as the number of patients overwhelmed hospital staff.  Healthcare workers (HCWs) were seeing patients with new symptoms and vulnerabilities. Resources such as masks and ventilators were increasingly unavailable. HCWs were slowly crushed by emotional and physical exhaustion. 

Stress seems to grow and grow

Worse still, descriptions of the phenomenon from HCWs suggest that burnout is contagious—attitudes and behaviors spread throughout teams that work closely together. 

Healthcare workers often make hard decisions with patients who have no ability to speak for themselves. The burden of those decisions can create moral and ethical distress that results in anxiety and depression. Often the decisions are made through cell phones. Families join the decision-making process electronically because they can’t be in the room with the patient.

Stress has even caused some HCWs to abandon their careers to find relief. Almost 20% of US healthcare workers have left the profession since the pandemic began.

Fortunately, telemedicine has helped blunt the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare industry, relieving some HCWs from the stress that leads to burnout. 

How does telemedicine help?

To take some of the burden from frontline HCWs, telemedicine is being used for pre-admittance work such as intake, diagnostics, and lab/imaging analysis. Also, provider handoffs, debriefs, and on-call specialist consultation can happen through video. This relieves staff from being on-site for every phase of treatment. 

In fact, telemedicine resources are now being used to place on-call mental health providers in hospitals for use by the staff. When something unexpected or awful happens, there’s always someone who can provide emotional support in a crisis.

Many mental health providers have stories about how telemedicine allowed them to continue their practices during the pandemic. They talk about how telehealth has had a positive effect on them and on their patients. It has allowed them to maintain an appropriate level of care.
In a recent study, approximately 30% of the providers felt that telemedicine relieved symptoms of burnout. About 36% agreed that their work-life balance has improved because of telemedicine. More than 40% of providers who responded preferred telemedicine over office visits.

Some mental health providers have nearly doubled their daily use of telemedicine since the COVID-19 pandemic so they can stay on track with their patient schedule. Providers of all kinds are more comfortable using telemedicine now, and most expect to use it even after the pandemic.

People use all kinds of tools to solve all kinds of problems, and telemedicine is a tool that has seen increased use throughout the pandemic. Implementing video communications in healthcare situations has reduced stress for frontline HCWs, helping relieve some of their burnout symptoms. Telemedicine will continue to be a powerful tool in all areas of healthcare.