Why Providers Need to Stop Overlooking Burnout Among Clinical Support Staff

Health


Ever since the pandemic began, there has been a lot of attention on burnout among doctors and nurses. While this problem is incredibly deserving of headlines and corrective efforts, it’s important that providers don’t forget about the burnout experienced by their clinical support staff.

“The clinical support staff set the stage for everything that happens in the provider office. Their wellbeing impacts their ability to optimally perform their role to calm anxious patients, smooth office flow and ensure appropriate followup. Paying close attention to and caring for support staff is a top priority for many of the providers with whom we work,” said Meg Aranow, a senior vice president at patient communication company Artera (formerly WELL Health).

While levels have gone down from their pandemic peak, burnout remains high among clinical support staff, according to a report released Tuesday by Artera. The report found that 70% of clinical support staff experience moderate to severe burnout, with 32% categorizing their burnout as high to severe.

Independent research firm PureSpectrum surveyed more than 300 support staff who are responsible for communicating with patients — including nurses, physicians assistants and front desk workers.

Among the support staff surveyed, 56% said that the patient communication process was a direct cause of their burnout. Nearly 70% of respondents spend two hours or more every day communicating with patients, with 1 in 5 reporting four or more hours per day.

Along with the obvious negative effect it has on clinical support staff’s mental health and wellbeing, burnout also impacts patient care. More than 40% of respondents said their burnout has been noticed by a patient, and 33% said their burnout has negatively affected the quality of care they provide. 

“If a patient feels rushed, not heard or disrespected it may prevent them from fully and openly engaging with the rest of the clinical team,” said Aranow. “We’ve all had customer experiences that lead us to open up and fully share, and unfortunately we have all had experiences that have the opposite effect.  The same is true in your provider office, but the stakes are higher there than they are at your local hardware store.”  

If a patient receives a curt response from support staff to their first or second question, it could hinder them from asking a third or fourth, Aranow explained. Patients may also feel dissuaded from sharing symptoms or important information about medication compliance, she said.

To combat burnout among support staff, Aranow recommended that providers automate routine patient conversations when possible. The report revealed that many providers still rely on phone-based communication, which can often be a source of frustration for support staff.

“A patient’s routine question like ‘where do I park?’ or ‘can I make an appointment?’ can easily be automated by good patient communication technology. But more complex questions around medication compliance will require a conversation between support staff and a patient. By automating the routine and repeatable, the staff is freed up to handle those conversations that are more nuanced and complex. This is the equivalent of the often-used adage about working at the top of one’s license,” Aranow said.

Photo: ismagilov, Getty Images



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