Telehealth Can Bring More Efficient, Impactful and Balanced Work Lives to Clinicians

By Dr. Josh Emdur D.O., Chief Medical Officer, SteadyMD
Twitter: @steadymd
Twitter: @steadymdrunning

American healthcare delivery as we know it has shifted radically in recent years. A report conducted by The Association of American Medical Colleges revealed that the U.S. could see a shortage of anywhere between 37,800 and 124,000 clinicians by 2034, the impact of which could be devastating. Though the number of clinicians in the U.S. continues to grow each year, it’s not rising fast enough to match the rise in population — leading to the highest rate of clinician burnout on recent record, which reached a new peak (from 38.2% in 2020 to 62.8% in 2021) at the height of the pandemic. These numbers illuminate the inherent flaws in our traditional care settings that must be addressed. If left unresolved, our national healthcare ecosystem will no longer be sustainable.

As the overall demand for care increases, we need to re-evaluate the ways in which we enable healthcare practitioners to deliver quality care the way they’d originally intended to without having to sacrifice their own health, happiness, and personal commitments along the way. One key solution that has been proven to support this goal is telemedicine. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed the capacity and effectiveness of virtual care in treating a variety of conditions (e.g., various types of cancer screenings), which will only continue to iterate and improve as the technology scales. We have also seen clinicians gain numerous otherwise elusive work-life balance benefits that stem directly from virtual care practice, as reported by the clinicians themselves. Ultimately, as a care delivery model, telemedicine radically reimagines the clinician experience in a way that can lead to a more effective and efficient practice of medicine — one that enables human connection while levering the efficiency of new technologies, thereby reducing the burdens that lead to burnout so that they can achieve true work-life balance. Here’s how.

1. Increases Reach of Clinicians

In 2021, industry trend reports have revealed that convenience and ease of access to care are now the most important factors to consumers when choosing a clinician, next to quality of care. Telemedicine helps clinicians meet these expectations, because convenience is a cornerstone of the technology. Once clinicians gain the ability to conduct consultations, exams, and appointments virtually within the states they are licensed, the obstacles of location and transportation are removed from the equation — thereby increasing the availability of both the clinician and the patient to schedule appointments at a time of the day or night and place that works best for both. They can also choose to broaden their business by obtaining additional licenses to practice in other states, while being able to reach patients in rural or underserved communities with much more convenience and care than in-person modalities have allowed. These virtues of telehealth bring clinicians back to the core of their original mission, which is to serve as many patients as possible with the highest quality care possible.

2. Offers Flexibility, Control & Elusive “Work-Life Balance”

There are certain factors that can increase the likelihood that clinicians will lead happy lives (e.g., positive relationships with their patients, while being able to make time outside of work to spend with family and friends). In contrast, clinicians begin to burn out when they grow emotionally exhausted and feel a lack of control in their work. Telehealth gives clinicians the chance to nurture a true work-life balance, for perhaps the first time, because it provides them agency over their schedule. They are able to treat patients and build organic relationships without the time/space burdens that lead to burnout and minimize happiness or fulfillment in their career. As with any industry, though, flexibility must be balanced with effectiveness. Clinicians should still complete enough work to sustain the virtual business model, but telehealth allows them the unique opportunity to define the schedule that most closely matches their ideal lifestyle. For example, a recent clinician survey found that many nurse practitioners prefer to work weekends so they can handle child care on weekdays. Since telehealth often goes beyond a traditional Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 schedule, those NPs can now find meaningful work outside of that window. Clinicians no longer have to sacrifice their personal interests (family, friends, hobbies, and personal health) in order to meet their job requirements. They can work full-time while maintaining a full life, which ultimately benefits the patients they serve in a more meaningful and sustainable way.

3. Improves Efficiency & Effectiveness of Care

In traditional brick-and-mortar clinic models, a no-show appointment equals time and money lost for the practice. However, with telehealth models, clinicians can batch different appointment types together and fill those gaps of time with other value-driving aspects of virtual care. They can work on other timely tasks such as chat-based telemedicine visits, on-demand urgent care video visits, or chronic disease management through remote patient monitoring to increase the number of patients they are able to care for during working hours. Since telehealth clinicians are not bogged down by physical logistics like commuting or interoffice distractions, they can spend more time focusing solely on the patient at hand and pivoting between patients seamlessly. Clinicians who are licensed in multiple states can also fill coverage gaps when local clinical resources are at capacity. This, in particular, was one of the true saving graces of telehealth technology at the height of the pandemic when offices and clinics were closed, booked, or otherwise unavailable. Still, despite the massive efficiency gains telehealth can offer, it’s just as important to ensure clinicians are not overworked and that patients aren’t treated with the “big box” mentality of medicine (profit over patient experience). If not mindful of scheduling, clinics can overload their practitioners with virtual work and exacerbate the same problems that telemedicine was implemented to solve. Everybody wins when clinics can leverage virtual care as an overdue opportunity to counteract the rigidity and operational burdens that have engulfed traditional medicine — paving the way forward for a new standard of work culture in healthcare.

These are just a few of the proven benefits of telehealth that can dramatically improve the work lives of clinicians while still supporting rich personal lives, enhancing operational efficiencies and elevating the overall patient experience. While virtual care is still being implemented and adopted across the country and its full potential is yet to be realized, it is perhaps the most empowering path for practitioners to deliver optimal care and rekindle the joys of their professional lives.