Burnout has been an issue of rising concern among veterinary practitioners for a few years now.
In fact, one recent research study found that veterinarians experienced higher rates of burnout, not just in comparison to their physician counterparts, but also in comparison to other employed adults in the US general population.
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to eradicating the causes of burnout, there are a few best practices that can help address at least a few common facets of it. For one, leveraging progressive technology solutions that can streamline day-to-day workflows and propagate holistic wellbeing among veterinary care providers can greatly help.
In this piece, we look at a few such innovations and how those can help mitigate burnout issues.
Telehealth Adoption can Help Veterinarians Better Manage Time
Let’s be honest, there are way too many trivial tasks in a clinical setting that oftentimes demand too much of the veterinary care provider’s attention.
One recent research study conducted by HIMSS Analytics found that constant interruptions from smartphones, phone calls, alerts from apps, and pagers lead to unnerving stress that, in succession, fuels burnout in healthcare providers.
This also indirectly implies that one of the ways in which burnout can be effectively prevented is getting rid of all the disparate solutions, and instead, having one unified, well-designed system in place.
Telehealth adoption can prove to be a benefit on this front.
By leveraging telemedicine, veterinary care providers and their staff can easily offload some aspects of their work, streamline workflows, and make their lives a lot easier in the long run.
There are a number of other ways in which this state-of-the-art technology can help alleviate burnout and stress among veterinarians. To name a few:
- By providing remote consultations for non-emergency cases right in the beginning of the disease cycle, vets can deploy interventions with pet parents as soon as necessary, and ensure treatment adherence which, in turn, can considerably reduce emergency visits.
- Veterinarians and staff tend to feel less pressured or rushed for time when they use telehealth solutions since there’s sufficient time at hand and they aren’t in a constant state of hurry to get to the next appointment. This makes them feel more in control of the situation and keeps them from suffering at the hands of burnout.
- Telemedicine can help veterinarians take care of administrative work all while they’re in the comfort of their own homes as opposed to them having to stay back late at the office. This can have a positive impact on their emotional and mental health.
Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are numerous other ways in which telehealth integration can prove to be instrumental in mitigating burnout among veterinary care providers.
Data Management Solutions can Help Streamline Documentation
Bureaucratic tasks, such as managing data, demand a considerable amount of time of the average veterinary practitioner’s working day.
More time spent doing documentation and other clerical tasks directly translates to less time spent with patients, and less personal time spent outside of the clinic/hospital setting. Not only is this harmful for their mental health, but it also puts added strain on disillusioned vets who spent years mastering their art with the hope of getting to work closely with patients .
So then, what exactly is the way out?
Effective data management can be instrumental in helping veterinary practitioners get past this persistent problem. A few ways this can be done are:
- Automating less important processes that don’t demand absolute human intervention
- Leveraging data management software to keep information concise, consistent, and accessible at all times
- Leveraging a cloud computing solution to boost data interoperability across the organization
- Dictation software solutions that leverage Natural language processing (NLP) can help veterinary care providers to process unstructured text-notes from pet parents
Animal health information is getting multi-dimensional and highly complex with each passing day. Therefore, management of existing data silos is now more a necessity for veterinary organizations trying to mitigate burnout among care providers than it ever has been.
Healthcare Apps and Wearables can Help Ensure Overall Wellbeing
In the current times, the majority of methods through which burnout is treated in any profession are reactive. Veterinary medicine is no exception.
When providers start to experience pain, feel sick, display signs of having faced some form of trauma, or self-realize their job is taking a toll on their holistic wellbeing, is when they start taking the required measures. However, this often happens too late.
Therefore, a proactive approach is absolutely essential.
This can easily be done with the help of wearable technology. Instead of reacting to the negative effects of burnout once they begin causing issues, wearable technology can be used to take action right during the initial stages when it sets in.
One fine example of this would be a recent human healthcare study conducted by the Sen Lab at the University of Michigan wherein researchers have uncovered clear links between depression and a host of poor consequences for physician residents, including lost productivity, lower-quality patient care and turnover, and of course, burnout.
“Physician depression has a high cost – one that’s measurable,” says the study’s lead investigator Dr Srijan Sen, MD, PhD, and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
“Depressed physicians commit medical errors at almost twice the rate of non-depressed ones. Depression also is clearly linked to attrition. But, if we can provide interventions to retain wellness and reduce work-family conflicts, we can change the system”, Dr Sen continues.
For the very first time, the longitudinal cohort study used Fitbit’s wearable bracelets to collect real-time data from all physician participants as they worked in their residencies.
The smartphone-based app, developed especially for the study, automatically tracks sleep quality and length, records activity levels, and asks the user for input on mood levels on a day-to-day basis. The device’s algorithms then predict optimal fatigue times of the day or week on the basis of changes occurring in the user’s length of awake time, sleep schedule, time spent at work, etc.
“Now we can gather objective data in real-time, instead of subjective feedback – and that’s a really exciting direction,” Dr Sen says.
“For example, we’ve known for a long time there’s a close connection between mood and sleep, but we didn’t know that much about how much people slept or how it affected their mood the next day. We found there are really high-risk periods for getting depressed, even becoming suicidal. Being able to get at that fine-grained relationship between these variables wasn’t possible before these sorts of devices were around, and we can collect that data on a daily basis.”
Healthcare wearables, along with the myriad of health apps available in the market today, can collect a lot of important data about a veterinary care provider’s vitals such as heart rate, activity level, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, sleep patterns, etc. This data can prove to be highly instrumental in identifying early signs of burnout.
Veterinarian burnout is a complex issue.
Each veterinary care provider is a different individual and what works for one might not work for another since the underlying causes behind each one of them feeling burnt out can be different.
However, technology sure can be an effective tool when trying to find and rectify those causes. Don’t underestimate its potential.
Dr. Samantha Vitale, DVM, MS, DACVIM
Samantha Vitale, DVM, MS, DACVIM is a board certified veterinary neurologist and co-founder of Stratocyte by Cloud Animal Health, an online marketplace where primary care veterinarians can connect with specialists that offer virtual consults and other custom services.