How AI can help prevent physician burnout

Nuance Communications

By Dr Simon Wallace*
Thursday, 05 December, 2019

How AI can help prevent physician burnout

An ageing population, a shortage of staff and a lack of funding are behind a steadily increasing workload and higher expectations of care in the medical industry. This is quickly culminating in what the World Health Organization now officially recognises as ‘burnout’, with Australian doctors exhibiting high levels of burnout including emotional exhaustion (32%) and cynicism (35%), according to BeyondBlue.

It would be reasonable to believe that interactions with patients and delivery of satisfactory care are some of the most stressful aspects of a profession in health care. However, it is administration processes and clinical documentation requirements that are exacerbating burnout rates of healthcare professionals to unprecedented levels.

Research has found that between creating documentation (which clinicians spend around 11 hours a week doing), looking for lost notes, duplicating records and other administrative tasks, up to half of a clinician’s time can be spent on documentation. This means that only around 13% of their working time is spent caring for patients.

Developments in artificial intelligence (AI), particularly voice recognition and AI-based language assistants, present a massive opportunity to address physician burnout by speeding up clinical correspondence, supporting clinical decision-making and putting the focus back on providing care.

AI is shaking up outdated clinical documentation processes

Nearly three-quarters of Australian healthcare leaders are either in the process of or are planning AI adoption. Although robot surgeons and Alzheimer’s prediction algorithms are some of the more sensational applications of AI in health care, it is AI-embedded speech recognition integrated into clinical documentation systems that can have a major impact on the industry.

Unlike traditional digital dictation, AI-driven speech recognition records and captures spoken information directly into the health documentation system. No manual data entry is required, and physicians can update patient stories more thoroughly and in real time. That information can then be retrieved by voice, significantly reducing the time taken searching the electronic health record (EHR) to find the required note.

Looking to the future, AI is powering what we call ambient clinical intelligence (ACI). It listens securely to clinician–patient conversations and complements the EHR by providing assisted workflows, task and knowledge automation.

This technology does not require a desktop computer in the room as it is a purpose-built healthcare device with multi-microphone array. As the consultation takes place, the conversation is automatically entered as a clinical note and displays the documentation on a desktop, iPad, mobile app or TV monitor.

The ACI system captures the patient’s responses, as well as the clinicians, using voice biometrics to identify and distinguish between speakers. Key clinical facts, including problems and orders, are automatically extracted as coded information so the physician can verbally accept them and complete documentation, further reducing administrative burden and eliminating rework.

Documentation is then automatically sent to the cloud, making highly accurate medical records available to all users on all devices — whenever and wherever it’s most convenient.

The human impact of AI in clinical documentation

We speak around three times faster than we type. AI that intelligently captures speech directly into medical records therefore dramatically reduces level of work demanded by clinical documentation.

In the examination room, this affords clinicians more time to do their job, delivering more holistic care to a greater number of patients. Reducing administration pressures also affords more headspace, improving the quality and accuracy of care that would previously be impacted by stress or fatigue.

The positive effects of AI-driven speech recognition spills over into clinician’s personal lives, where arguably, a greater and more meaningful impact is made.

When we look at the most common sources of work stress as reported by doctors, those being the need to balance work and personal responsibilities (27%), having too much to do at work (25%) and long work hours (20%), the common thread is that they all pertain to ‘having enough time’.

‘Difficulty finding the time’ is almost the most common reason four out of 10 general practitioners report that they have personally delayed seeking treatment or care at some point in the past two years.

AI, when applied to clinical documentation, can give clinicians hours back into their day, not only to spend with their patients, but to spend with friends and family, or taking care of their own health.

Clinical documentation requirements and processes are just one of many factors driving burnout in the medical industry, which is why there isn’t a single ‘silver bullet’ solution. However, with clever applications of technology like conversational AI and voice recognition, we can achieve efficiencies that will lighten workloads and alleviate pressures on healthcare professionals.

*Dr Simon Wallace is Chief Clinical Information Officer at Nuance Communications and a former general practitioner.

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