Dr Simon Wallace, chief clinical information officer, Nuance, explains how modern technologies can help front-line staff at a time when burnout levels are so high.
Over the last year, our NHS has been pushed to breaking point. Services that were already overstretched and under resourced have been put under never-before-seen levels of strain. And, it’s the individuals at the heart of the NHS who are feeling this pressure the most. Required to treat an influx of COVID-19 cases and support a nationwide vaccination programme, whilst still continuing to deliver other life-saving treatment and care, many medical professionals are, understandably, struggling.
In fact, recent research from Nuance discovered that the majority of UK healthcare professionals across primary (75%) and secondary (60%) care have experienced significantly increased stress and anxiety over the course of the pandemic. When excessive and persistent, this stress can lead to many of the symptoms we associate with clinician burnout, including feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.
According to recent reports, GP surgeries in England lost nearly 300 full-time doctors in the three months before Christmas last year and a shortfall of 7,000 GPs is expected by 2023. Meanwhile, it is thought that up to a third of nurses are considering leaving the profession as a result of COVID-related burnout. These are the people that helped form and maintain a new front-line when the pandemic hit. They are the individuals that we clapped for each week and relied upon during the toughest days. Yet, unrelenting stress and heavy workloads are taking a toll. There’s no doubt that something needs to change if the NHS is going to continue to deliver its life saving treatments and care.
The administration burden
In recent months, the delivery of healthcare services has transformed. One of the major changes has been a shift towards telehealth or remote appointments. An RCGP analysis of GP appointments data found that before the pandemic upwards of 70% of consultations were face to face. In a matter of weeks, this decreased to 23%.
Whilst some doctors and patients are benefitting from this new format, in many cases the rapid move to a digital-first consultation approach drove a surge in workload and clinical administration. In fact, Nuance’s research reveals that 67% of primary care respondents believe the pandemic has increased the amount of clinical administration at their practice. Additional comments provided during the survey indicate there are several causational factors, but the pivot to remote consultations appears to be a major contributor. One reason for this is that remote consultations come with higher risk and more diagnostic uncertainty, and therefore require more safeguarding processes. This results in increased requirements from an administration perspective.
Prior to the pandemic, clinicians had already been reported to spend on average of 11 hours a week on clinical documentation, and once you consider lost and repeated documentation, that number could bump up to 50% of their time spent on administrative processes. It’s hard to imagine exactly how many hours medical professionals were spending on paperwork during the pandemic’s peak, when hospitals were at their busiest and remote appointments were a necessity. With the vaccination roll out in full swing and telehealth set to play a key role moving forward, we’re not out of the woods just yet.
Reducing burnout with AI-powered speech recognition
Moving forward, modern technologies – such as speech recognition solutions – could help to alleviate some of the pressures placed on healthcare professionals and enable them to work more effectively, especially when it comes to the administrative burden that they often face.
Even when delivered extremely quickly, speech recognition technologies recognise and record long passages of speech, transforming them into detailed medical notes. Users can add clinical note templates and all medical terms are automatically recognised in the correct context. In other words, the documentation process has become instant. All NHS staff need to do is use their voice. Given that humans speak at least three times faster than we type, integrating these types of technologies will free up clinicians’ time so they can spend more time seeing patients and delivering quality care.
Speech recognition can also boost the accuracy of patient records by reducing repetition and supporting standardisation across departments. Accurate healthcare records, and therefore good patient care, depend on the level of detail that only high-quality clinical documentation can provide. By enabling clinicians to compile records using just their voice, they can deliver this level of detail and accurately capture the complete patient story at the point of care.
These benefits are something that medical professionals can experience no matter where they are based, if they use secure, cloud-based solutions. The latest technologies on the market enable users to access their single voice profile from different devices and locations, even when logging on from home. This could significantly reduce the administrative burden associated with remote consultations and, as a result, help to reduce burnout levels amongst NHS staff.
One example of an organisation already benefiting from this technology is Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust. The team there deployed speech recognition as part of a broader goal to support all staff members and patients, during the crisis. The trust, which serves a population of around 470,000 people and employs approximately 6,000 staff, sought to free up time and enable doctors to improve safety and minimise inflection risk. By deploying mobile speech recognition, clinicians could quickly and easily compile patient records without having to touch shared keyboards. Having seen these benefits during physical appointments, the trust is also looking into how speech recognition can support virtual consultations conducted over MS Teams, further improving the quality of consultations, whilst easing some of the pressures placed upon staff.
The last year alone is evidence that the NHS is the UK’s most valuable institution. Yet, increased workloads and stress levels are having a huge impact and taking their toll on the health professional workforce. Can smart digital technology protect those who have protected us? I think it can; for example advancements in solutions such as AI-powered speech recognition could change the game when it comes to clinical documentation, relieving some of the administrative burden and helping to reduce burnout levels throughout the sector.