Time to rethink the hybrid workplace in healthcare
- Posted on June 1, 2022
- Estimated reading time 5 minutes
The practice of medicine has always been a team sport. While you physically worked alongside your colleagues, the day didn’t end there. Medicine has always had an aspect of hybrid work in that you could reach those same colleagues over the phone to bounce an idea, for advice and occasionally to advocate a course of treatment to a more senior colleague.
A universal slow progression to hybrid working
Remote working has always been a consideration and some specialties have moved faster than others, but the preference in medical practice continued to be a hands-on approach to medicine wherever possible. Almost like a mechanic opening the hood/bonnet of a car and hearing it run, there is a physicality to medicine that is engraining in its practice.
Even so, some specialities have moved faster than others towards hybrid working Initially beginning with lab results and pathology results, and then the sea-change with the advent of digital radiography (PACS) that enabled colleagues anywhere to collaborate and offer insight and released us from needing to locate or negotiate access to physical assets.
Driven by PACS, we started to organise around the computer as the focus of the clinical information. After lab results and radiology, we started to add more patient information to our information technology (IT) systems and the transition from Patient Administration Systems to Clinical Information Systems began in earnest. We started to pivot from the retrospective recording of clinical information (clinical coding) for the purposes of payment/reimbursement to unlocking better point of care.
Then the pandemic hit
The pandemic hitting has forced a hard change in mindset. Rather than skirt the edges, we suddenly had to think about how we could maximise what could be done remotely and critically rethink every model of care we had developed.
As the pandemic dragged on, these new ways of working were further embedded into our systems such that now a complete return to the old ways is not possible. Both sides of the fence, both healthcare systems and patients have habituated to the new ways and expectations have changed.
In some arenas this is viewed critically, as doctors no longer being willing to see their patients face to face, whereas others appreciate the convenience of not needing to take time off work to travel, pay to park at a hospital and then spend most of their time in a waiting room.
Reduce burnout and improve staff retention
As a physician who specialized in emergency medicine, I understand the incredible commitment that physicians, nurses and other allied providers make to care for each patient. I also understand the incredible stress this creates, and it seems to have only gotten worse.
Since the pandemic, 1 in 5 healthcare workers in the United States alone have left their job and The World Economic Forum reported at least 40% of employees across industries are thinking about resigning. In my humble opinion, healthcare workers are not quitting because they can’t manage their jobs. They’ve resigned because they can’t handle being unable to do their jobs.
Even before COVID-19, many healthcare providers and workers struggled to bridge the gap between the noble ideals of their profession and the realities of its business. The pandemic simply pushed them past the limits of that compromise, and it is hard to predict if any will return without some workplace modifications to enable them to do their jobs more productively.
Rethink the hybrid workplace
Hybrid work in healthcare does not necessarily mean working from home. This is neither possible nor desirable in many care settings. What it does mean is its time to rethink how we use the digital technologies available to create a hybrid of virtual technologies whilst retaining genuine human touch.
Imagine for a moment that a clinician clocks in via an app on her cell phone. Then reviews a patient’s AI-enabled electronic medical record and virtually educates high-risk patients on how to use monitoring apps. Then she meets with patients through video calls. Afterwards she discusses a patient’s status with the entire medical team via a communications platform. She has time to take the breaks that she is entitled to and clocks out on time via an app on her cell phone as she gets in her car to pick up food for dinner.
The good news is the move from onsite to a more virtual workplace is less challenging than ever before. At Mater Hospital, for example, we helped digitize physician and nursing workflows and automated several patient workflows. This greatly reduced the amount of time caregivers spent filling out forms and doing manual reporting, allowing more patients to be helped.
Design digital technology to power the hybrid workforce
Turning to the future, it’s clear that some areas of medicine will never be remote, such as the emergency doctor who assists patients who are having heart attacks or have been brought in from road traffic accidents; the nursing staff who look after admitted patients and the radiographers who take the X-rays.
There are some for whom half-and-half would work, such as oncologists who need to plan treatments based on radiological images but also need to break life-changing news in person. And those in non-patient facing roles who only need to be available over a call such as our pathologists.
Where healthcare will face its challenge is in the balancing act between cost effectiveness of healthcare provision whilst maintaining the genuine human impact that we struggle to quantify.
I invite you to read highlights from a health tech roundtable I hosted where several healthcare experts addressed ‘How to rethink workplace technology to improve the clinician experience, reduce burnout’.