The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Mitigating Physician Burnout
-Written by Dr. Shreyjit Kaur
Artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked considerable interest in various disciplines of medicine, such as pharmaceuticals, technology, and healthcare. Potential applications of AI in healthcare include assisting in diagnosing certain diseases in patients, transcribing prescriptions, increasing communication between providers and patients, and treating patients remotely. Among these applications, addressing the problem of physician burnout through AI is very promising.
According to ICD-11, “burnout” is defined as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job; feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.
Long working hours, decreased autonomy in the workspace, and an increase in administrative and clerical responsibilities, such as interacting with the electronic medical or health record, charting, preparing patient notes, documentation, etc., are major sources of physician burnout. These result in a detrimental decline in actual patient care as the physicians spend less face-to-face time with the patients, which may result in excessive healthcare expenditure.
Individual symptoms of physician burnout can vary in many degrees, but the most usual symptoms consist of emotional exhaustion, job dissatisfaction, decreased motivation, depression, depersonalization, detachment, decreased caring and compassion, etc. While many of these symptoms can be attributed to stress and exhaustion, it is essential to emphasize that burnout is a far deeper issue and can have a significantly negative impact on a physician’s dedication to their profession and future.
Artificial Intelligence, which is steadily finding its feet in healthcare, can assist in streamlining some of the mundane duties, reducing the unnecessary stress on many clinicians, improving their work-life balance, and strengthening their decision-making capacity. AI also helps to deliver better patient care by reducing human error, personalizing treatment plans, targeting and tailoring therapies, improving diagnostics, and remotely treating patients. Furthermore, an AI-based scheduling tool has been demonstrated to considerably boost physician engagement, minimize burnout, and promote work-life balance for physicians while also significantly lowering the time spent on manual scheduling.
Some AI solutions and startups are now being developed internationally, which could significantly assist physicians in multiple ways.
As an example, let’s consider a French startup, Nabla, which is developing an algorithm and system that can deliver a real-time summary of patient-doctor interactions during hospital and clinic visits, which can later be generated as a report and approved by the physician with a click of the mouse. If this technology is implemented, doctors would obtain consent from their patients to use it, and such a tool might alleviate many of the constraints that physicians have when it comes to documenting and charting.
Regard is a co-pilot AI system, and it can also undertake certain activities to alleviate physician burnout and enable patient care. Regard works with physicians to mitigate their burden by mining the medical record thoroughly, using that data to arrive at diagnoses, and then generating clinical notes for physicians to carefully review and sign. A team of physicians and engineers work to build these algorithms on a disease-by-disease basis, and decision trees use the latest clinical guidelines from major medical societies, e.g., the American College of Physicians.
Suki Assistant, developed by a California-based company, is a digital assistant for physicians that allows them to quickly obtain patient information, including vital signs, medications, allergies, medical and surgical histories, etc. Doctors can easily and securely access patient data from an EHR or EMR in a HIPAA-compliant way through a mobile application.
However, a major concern for AI software in healthcare has always been inherent biases, overreliance, privacy issues, and erroneous and inaccurate outputs. All the emerging AI software for healthcare requires professional monitoring by physicians to verify and suitably deal with issues of ethics, bias, fabrication, and patient safety. Physicians and hospitals should strictly implement HIPAA compliance to protect patient privacy and data, such as through data encryption and access control measures. A responsible adoption of Artificial Intelligence in health care can pave the way for a new era of medicine that will not only revolutionize patient care but also create a more sustainable and supportive environment for healthcare professionals.