Published on February 3, 2021

3 Unexpected Ways that Telemedicine Helps Minimize Rural Provider Burnout

By John Parks, Director of Business Development, Avera eCARE

According to Medscape’s 2021 Physician Burnout Report, 42% of physicians reported feeling burned out last year. And, almost 80% of those indicated that the burnout began before the pandemic. So, in order to begin to rectify the problem, many long-term issues will need to be addressed even after this pandemic winds down.

The most common factors contributing to burnout were too many bureaucratic tasks (58%); spending too many hours at work (37%); and lack of response from leaders or colleagues (37%). Essentially, providers are overworked, need more support, and want more collaboration.

Consider Avera eCARE’s Emergency telemedicine program, and how this 24/7 on-demand consultation service responds. These hospital-to-hospital telemedicine services are specifically designed to be force multipliers for rural facilities that struggle with recruitment and retention… both classic symptoms of provider burnout.

Following, are three problems identified by providers that are contributing to the burnout and depression and three solutions that telemedicine brings.

Problem 1

Too many hours at work and a need for more manageable patient loads and schedule

This actually is an issue of both quantity and quality. Too many hours and the quality of work being done during those shifts. Respondents noted that too many work hours and burnout have led to patient related issues like getting exasperated with patients, expressing frustrations to patients, as well as making errors that they might not normally make and being less careful in taking patient notes. These expressions of burnout can have a big impact on patient satisfaction, sure… but what’s especially alarming is the potential this has to impact patient care and outcomes.

Solution 1

These 24/7 virtual specialty staffing solutions serve as a force multiplier for rural hospitals. When nurses hit a red button on the wall, Avera eCARE’s board certified emergency physicians and experienced nurses jump in on the other side of the monitor and assist with care of the rural patient. On average, these ER specialists are with the patient about 20 minutes sooner than the local provider (because local providers are responding from the clinic, busy with other patients, or coming in from call). This Avera eCARE team, in conjunction with local nurses, can get care started for the patients and take some of the burden off of the local providers who are commonly stretched thin. This service is very valuable to even larger hospitals in trying to reduce ER wait times and manage surges better.

In addition, more and more states allow for this ER service to serve as backup to advanced practice providers (APPs) in the ER. That’s a huge financial boon to the hospital as well as a huge relief for the local care team. This allows the physicians to have more work-life harmony, which is proving to be especially important to younger generations of providers as they value time to raise their families, travel and recharge.

Problem 2

Too many bureaucratic tasks and not enough support staff

There are more and more expectations on providers to keep up with the demands of the business, sort of a “death by 1,000 cuts.” When you add everything together, it causes the providers to spend more time on the tedious, but important, tasks like documentation, meetings and reports, and less time on what they went to school for – patient care.

Solution 2

“Avera eCARE Emergency handles that?” That’s the surprised response our teams get when we begin to work with hospitals around the country (currently over 200 for this service alone). Their gleeful surprise comes from the fact that our nursing teams assist with documentation and arrange transportation for patients needing to transfer, whether that’s ground, fixed wing or rotor (which is very helpful in times of bad weather or when hospitals are on diversion). Finally, Avera eCARE’s providers assist greatly with reaching out to receiving facilities, and having conversations with the receiving cardiologist, neurologist, etc. This is often a challenging part of the job for rural providers that may not get the response they are looking for from the larger market providers. Avera eCARE’s physicians see the tough stuff, all day every day, and they excel in these difficult conversations.

Problem 3

Lack of response from colleagues

This challenge exists more and more in all areas of medicine – urban or rural. Everyone is so busy doing their own thing that collegial relationships become strained. Nurses are waiting on assistance from providers. Nurses are waiting on help from leadership. Providers are looking for someone to collaborate with. Providers are waiting on nursing to proceed. This lack of time and lack of human resources is even more pronounced in rural settings and can be a major hurdle when it comes to recruitment and retention. Increasingly, providers don’t want to be alone on an island, left to fend for themselves. Gone are the days when providers took pride in being everyone’s hero. Here are the days of creating a sustainable work-life harmony.

Solution 3

Where else in life can you hit a button on the wall and get the help you need almost instantly? That’s the type of collaboration that providers have grown to appreciate in Avera eCARE’s Emergency telemedicine program. Literally, at the push of a button, rural providers can have the consultation they need. These providers all benefited greatly from this type of collegial partnership while they were in residency, and appreciate having someone to bounce around ideas or manage cases with. One of the unique challenges facing rural providers is that their high acuity cases come with little frequency. And like anything, practice makes perfect. So, when they get that difficult airway, that chest tube, that trauma… it’s nice to have a guiding voice working with you on the other side of the monitor. Providers no longer have to feel guilty about reaching out to their stressed/over-burdened local colleagues. They have a resource ready and waiting.