The new healthcare crisis

Published on the 06/10/2020 | Written by Heather Wright

covid burnout

Covid-19 admin overload, virtual consults leading up stress and burnout…

Covid-19 has driven home the lack of investment in health IT, with a deluge of extra admin driving up the blood pressure for Australia’s already overburdened healthcare sector – but it’s also spurred some much needed investment and change.

A survey of more than 200 healthcare professionals and practice managers in private practices across Australia shows telehealth has come to the fore, thanks largely to the government incentivising the use of telehealth, with remote working also taking great leaps forward.

“Technology will be at the forefront of every discussion in the healthcare sector moving forward.”

The survey, by medical practice management software provider Clinic to Cloud, shows 54 percent are now working remotely more often, with 11 percent working ‘completely virtually’.

On the telehealth side, 61 percent reported that more than a quarter of all their weekly consults are now occurring via telehealth, and for 23 percent, that figure jumps to three-quarters or more of weekly consults being via telehealth. (It’s hard to gauge exactly how big a jump Covid has spurred with Medicare item numbers not available to draw a clear comparison, but PwC figures show virtual care attendances accounted for only 0.1 percent of all Medicare Benefits Scheme funding prior to the pandemic.)

But while medical practitioners have made the jump into telehealth, it isn’t always a comfortable transition, with 38 percent reporting they’re having challenges with adapting to virtual care/telehealth.

Rafic Habib, Clinic to Cloud CEO, says just like the rest of the world, Australian medical practices weren’t prepared for a pandemic or to manage patients remotely.

“This meant that very quickly, administrative overload ensued,” he told iStart.

“This is not to mention the risks associated with diagnosing patients remotely, requesting investigations and ensuring patients get them completed in a safe and secure manner.

“The overall impact includes a higher cost of proving care to patients and higher security risk of collecting and processing payments remotely.”

Habib says the pandemic has accelerated the digital health discussion and created the urgency to resolve issues such as administrative burden, time management and workflow challenges, stress and burnout, as well as patient confusion and no-shows – all issues flagged in the survey.

The pandemic has also seen an increase in patient document management for 35 percent of those surveyed, with 29 percent reporting an increase in patient registration and processing issues and 34 percent saying they were having challenges communicating with patients.

That feeling of overload is translating to increased mental health issues among those surveyed, with 31 percent of those surveyed reporting an increase in stress and burnout.

It’s not just the medical teams either, with 71 percent reporting increases in patient appointment confusion and no-shows.

Habib believes technology will be key to balancing increased patient expectations in a remote world.

“Technology will be at the forefront of every discussion in the healthcare sector moving forward,” he says.

“Practices are asking for more help using technology. They’re looking for efficiencies, to maintain patient engagement and to make their business more profitable and safer with more decision support and greater protection around them from a technology perspective – to ensure they continue to deliver the highest care possible,” he says.

The survey shows spend on technology solutions that support virtual and remote clinical and practice management, such as cloud solutions, online payments, telehealth and mobile apps will continue in the coming months, with 52 percent saying they’re maintaining spend in those areas.

Using technology to create a seamless, collaborative and contactless environment for staff and patients can provide quick wins, he says.

“Importantly, technology can be used to communicate clearly with your team internally and with your patients in a secure environment.

“Effective communication via the right channels is one of the key factors in alleviating ‘Covid stress’ in healthcare.

“The importance of technology in helping to alleviate the pain points identified in the report, such as increased administrative burden (‘paperwork’), time management and workflow challenges, stress and burnout, as well as patient appointment confusion and no-shows – have always been there,” says Habib.

PwC too, is advocating for greater technology use, saying the technologies are already available to support a future where clinical health works hand in hand with community health, treating ‘the whole patient and not just there disease’.

That’s a vision that requires deep understanding of patients – an understanding PwC says can’t be gleaned from medical records – electronic or otherwise – alone.

Among PwC’s first aid kit for the sector are client insight and relationship management software, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Useful data exists, but it is fragmented over multiple organisations and systems both public and private,” PwC says.

“Adopting technology is not only going to help you through this pandemic, it is also going to set you up to future-proof your practice and assist you in tackling future demands and scrutiny around reporting and patient feedback,” adds Habib.

He offers up three key tips for health practices:

Heighten your communication with your team and your patients. Ensure you communicate via secure channels

Adopt technology that will help you create efficiencies within your practice and help you scale and grow

Find ways to enhance patient engagement in order to support continuity of care and reduce anxiety

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