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Addressing Staff Burnout in Healthcare: Essential Solutions

Staff burnout is real, but it can be solved.

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By Ido Zamberg, MD
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Edited by Michelle Meyer
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Fact-check by C8 Staff

Updated October 31, 2023.

staff burnout

The healthcare profession has long been regarded as one of the most demanding and stressful fields to work in. While the dedication of healthcare professionals is commendable, it comes at a cost—staff burnout. In this blog, we explore the primary factors contributing to burnout among healthcare professionals and discuss how it directly affects the quality of patient care and safety. We also offer four actionable solutions to address staff burnout in healthcare. This includes:

  • Invest in knowledge management systems
  • Involve healthcare professionals
  • Improved work-life balance
  • Streamlined administrative processes

Meet the Expert

Ido Zamberg M.D. is a board-certified physician (General Internal Medicine and Anesthesia), currently a Fellow at the Division of Experimental Medicine, McGill University Health Center, Montreal, Canada.

How Prevalent is Staff Burnout in Healthcare?

Staff burnout has always been a concern in healthcare, but its impact has been amplified by the arrival and aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, research shows that "one in three physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time." However, a 2023 study reveals that:

  • 50% of all the study participants experienced burnout.
  • Nurses were the hardest hit with 56% experiencing burnout.
  • Other clinical staff (excluding physicians and nurses) were right on their heels with 54.1% experiencing burnout.

This high level of burnout has various consequences, but possibly the most alarming one is more healthcare professionals are considering leaving their jobs. The same 2023 study breaks the "intent to leave the job" down like this:

  • Nurses: 41%
  • Non-clinical staff: 32.6%
  • Other clinical (excluding physicians and nurses) staff: 31.1%

These statistics underscore the heightened prevalence of staff burnout in healthcare and that the industry needs effective solutions to address it. But what contributes to burnout in the first place?

3 Factors Contributing to Burnout Among Healthcare Professionals

1. Lack of Control Over Daily Schedule and Workload

One of the major contributors to burnout in healthcare is the lack of control over one's daily schedule. The healthcare system often prioritizes seeing as many patients as possible, leaving little room for personal time or flexibility.

Consequently, this sentiment goes hand-in-hand with work overload. Overall, a heavy workload can double, or in some cases almost triple, healthcare professionals' risk of burning out.

Burnout is not only about long hours. It’s about the fundamental disconnect between health workers and the mission to serve that motivates them. — Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A.

This means trying to balance their personal and work lives, fulfilling multiple roles, managing increasing patient demands, and working around staff shortages. Being exposed to high workloads for too long can lead to chronic burnout, which may result in healthcare professionals leaving the profession altogether. In turn, high turnover rates can further exacerbate staffing shortages.

2. Administrative Burden

'Administrative burden' is two-fold. Firstly, physicians spend a significant amount of time on daily administrative tasks like paperwork, phone calls, and electronic medical record (EMR) documentation. This administrative load is often a main complaint from medicine practitioners. It takes away precious moments that could be spent with patients, leading to frustration and burnout.

Secondly, healthcare providers also grapple with accessing vetted best practices. This includes:

  1. Spending considerable time searching for clinical guidance and the latest evidence-based approaches to patient care.
  2. Keeping knowledge bases up to date. These can be scattered between different departments and systems, requiring manual effort to update them all.

These cumulative demands contribute to burnout and demonstrate the pressing need for more efficient administrative processes and support systems within healthcare.

3. Challenging Training Processes

The training process in healthcare can be ambiguous and mentally taxing. New challenges arise daily, and the path to competence isn't always clear. Challenges include:

  • Constantly keeping up with new knowledge and developments.
  • Trainees don't always have access to mentors.
  • Finding it difficult to balance workloads and time between training, clinical duties, and personal life.
  • Training programs are different between institutions and specialties, indicating a lack of standardization.

This relentless pursuit of medical education, coupled with the high-stakes nature of healthcare professionals' responsibilities, can lead to emotional fatigue, especially if you're in the early stages of your career.

The Impact of Staff Burnout on Patient Care and Safety

Staff burnout in healthcare doesn't just affect the professionals themselves. It has a direct impact on the quality of patient care and safety.

Reduced Training and Mentorship

Healthcare professionals often take on multiple roles where the primary focus revolves around patient and clinical care. Subsequently, they may not have time to dedicate to other responsibilities, including training junior physicians. This may hurt hospitals, and patient care, in the long term as future physicians will have less experience and exposure and might not invest in training peers themselves, creating a vicious cycle.

Decreased Performance

Fatigue and burnout can significantly impact a healthcare professional's performance. A survey found that 46% of junior doctors admit to making "fatigue-induced clinical errors." This means patients seen later in the day or by exhausted physicians may not receive the same level of care as those seen during the physician's peak hours.

Minimal Time and Attention

When healthcare professionals are overwhelmed, they may resort to doing the minimum required to get through the day, compromising patient care. This can lead to rushed decisions and errors that put patient safety at risk and result in negative outcomes. This is especially applicable to nurses—who have close, daily contact with patients—to the extent that up to 50% of patient safety incidents are because of limited nursing care.

4 Solutions to Address Staff Burnout in Healthcare

1. Invest in Knowledge Management Systems

Effective knowledge management systems can play a crucial role in reducing burnout. Healthcare organizations should invest in robust systems that facilitate the efficient sharing and retrieval of medical knowledge and best practices. These systems can help healthcare professionals stay updated and make informed decisions, reducing the burden of searching for locally vetted clinical guidance relevant to their point of care.

Make Your Knowledge Easily Accessible

C8 Health’s platform empowers residents and staff to take control of their training through quick and continuous access to their institution’s best practices.

Here's how Dr. Daniel Katz (Vice Chair of Education, Department of Anesthesia, Mount Sinai) uses C8:

2. Involve Healthcare Professionals 

To make sure burnout solutions are effective, it's essential to involve healthcare professionals themselves in the development process. Physicians, nurses, and other staff should actively participate in the design and implementation of technological solutions. Their insights and feedback can help create tools that align with their specific needs and workflows, increasing the likelihood of successful adoption.

3. Improved Work-Life Balance

Healthcare institutions must prioritize work-life balance for their staff. This includes implementing flexible scheduling, providing opportunities for breaks, and allowing for occasional sick days without jeopardizing patient care. Having backup systems or pools of available personnel can help alleviate the burden on individual professionals.

» Explore other ways to improve staff wellness

4. Streamlined Administrative Processes

It's crucial to embrace innovative technological tools that can automate manual workflows. These tools aren't limited to knowledge management but also extend to the documentation and overall patient care processes. By introducing these solutions, healthcare organizations can significantly enhance efficiency, reduce paperwork, and streamline administrative tasks. This transformation allows healthcare professionals to dedicate more time to direct patient care while simultaneously alleviating the administrative burden.

» Streamline your institution's admin with this easy-to-use solution

Making Healthcare Sustainable

Staff burnout is a pressing issue in healthcare that not only affects the well-being of professionals but also compromises the quality of patient care and safety. By implementing these and other solutions, we can take significant steps towards addressing burnout and creating a healthier, more sustainable healthcare system for both patients and practitioners. C8 Health strives to help healthcare practitioners achieve this goal by making best practices easily accessible to healthcare workers, thus mitigating the administrative burden of this line of work.