By Glenn Loomis, M.D.
Health Quest Medical Practice
Healthcare in the United States has a morale problem!
Call it malaise, burnout, or whatever word you like, the facts are clear. Doctors and nurses are miserable in epidemic numbers; and this is leading to depression, disability, and suicide in frighteningly high numbers.
A few weeks ago, I attended a Reds versus Mets baseball game with my adult daughter who wanted us to have time together to deepen our relationship. I was struck by how much of her life I have missed because I was treating patients or on call. Although I wish I had been more present, I can point to the calling of my profession and the greater good I was serving as offsets to this toll.
Now as the leader of hundreds of caregivers, I see them still missing time with their families, but it is in service of paperwork, Electronic Health Record (EHR) documentation, pre-authorizations, compliance reviews, etc. These activities seem to have no higher purpose and are unrelated to the reason they became a caregiver in the first place. This seems like a major reason for caregiver burnout.
We need to ask ourselves, “How do we make healthcare more humane for our caregivers?”
I believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) may hold the key to returning humanity to healthcare, both for the caregivers and the patients. I know you’re probably thinking, “Computers hold the solution?? That makes no sense. Computers are the biggest part of the problem.”
But, if you believe, as I do, that the biggest cause of malaise is the distance we have created between caregivers and their patients, then AI as a solution makes sense. Other industries are using AI to improve efficiency and effectiveness. This is mostly being done by using AI and robotics to do many mind-numbing, repetitive tasks, and allowing humans to do the more creative, integrative activities that bring joy and fulfillment to their jobs. Doesn’t this sound like a solution we could use in healthcare?
AI is a term that encompasses many types of technologies, including machine learning, neural networks, robot process automation, natural language processing, and many more. Taken together, AI serves as a platform for completing repetitive, low-level tasks, creating insights from mountains of data, automating documentation, and many other things that could make healthcare more efficient and effective, while returning the caregivers to the place they belong … face-to-face with patients, making eye contact and sharing the deep personal interactions that drew them into healthcare in the first place!
Imagine if our caregivers could replace the hours of mind-numbing documentation and demoralizing paperwork with meaningful patient interactions? We know that physicians spend only about half of their working hours face-to-face with patients and half of that time is consumed with staring at the EHR, causing both the patient and the physician a sense of disconnectedness and frustration. We know that the other 50% of a physician’s time is spent on documentation and paperwork. This causes my physician colleagues to often say they are “the highest paid secretaries in the US.” The problem is, they did not spend 11 to 20 years of their life being educated to be administrative professionals. It’s demoralizing to highly trained professionals to be reduced to typing for a living, not to mention the fact that they spend an average of 2 hours per night AT HOME completing the documentation they were unable to complete during their working hours.
We need to start the process of applying AI to the tasks that are sucking the life from our caregivers. This requires time, money, industry partnerships, and an adventurous spirit.
Other industries, such as banking, oil and gas, investment, etc. are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into AI research and development. Healthcare is woefully behind and must follow other industry examples and invest significant sums, allowing pioneers to apply AI to healthcare processes in a way that makes our caregivers more effective and efficient. We should stop trying to use AI to cure cancer, solve genomics, and the many other siloed approaches we are currently undertaking until we have used it to cure the malaise of overwork, documentation overload, billing hassles, and many other areas of “low hanging fruit” that are ripe for automation and can bring humanity and joy back to our caregivers in healthcare.
Only after humanity is returned to healthcare, will we be able to truly harness the higher order empathy and intelligence of our caregivers to solve the problems of healthcare that surround us.
Glenn A. Loomis, MD, MSHM, FAAFP is a high-energy, patient-centered healthcare executive with extensive success driving strategy and operations for dynamic healthcare systems and physician groups. Better health, better healthcare and lower total cost of care for patients; those are the key focus areas when Glenn is devising and executing strategic initiatives.
For nearly 20 years Glenn has pushed the envelope and challenged the status quo while bringing healthcare systems to the next level. Presently he contributes as one of the five most senior leaders at Health Quest, a four hospital system with revenues exceeding $1B. While overseeing the physician group, three service lines, clinical laboratory, medical education and digital health innovation, he has consistently improved EBITDA, inpatient quality metrics and provider engagement. He also concurrently serves as President and Sole Shareholder of Health Quest Medical Practice, driving the growth and development of a physician organization with 300+ providers and 900+ employees. Before joining Health Quest, Glenn was tapped for the role of SVP at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, a billion-dollar, five hospital system, where he played a key role in directing ambulatory and physician operations.