WORK-LIFE BALANCE FOR DOCTORS IN TELEMEDICINE
The medical career is an honorable and impactful life course for dedicated professionals who seek to cure various illnesses, especially with telemedicine and digital health solutions. Through decades of personal sacrifice and costly investments, healthcare professionals are uniquely gifted to cure and uplift the health and wellness of complete strangers. However the COVID-19 Pandemic exposed physicians and other healthcare workers to even more burnout stresses.
In the medical career journey, there are significant challenges that can demotivate physicians, nurses and healthcare support staff. Toxic work cultures, low pay, constant threats of malpractice litigations and burdensome regulations, even in the telemedicine space, make it difficult for many physicians to manage their daily stress levels, leading to a pandemic of physicians burnout in 2021.
After the advent of COVID-19, the potential of telemedicine came into the mainstream, doctors and physicians started incorporating weekly remote appointments into their schedule. Telemedicine proved to be effective for both patients and doctors. For patients, telemedicine provides safe, convenient and timely access to healthcare.
For doctors, telemedicine was not uniformly accepted as a viable career choice beyond the early trend of mass adaptation to the global lockdown. Though the virtual care experience was an interesting occupational experience to alternative means of patient communication, the immense regulatory, insurance and customer engagement oversight only added to the pre-existing condition of healthcare stress.
Like many people who had to shift to work from home and other remote access processes, physicians found that they too could not transition from work responsibilities to a reasonable period of rest, before the next shift or next duty obligation.
Having responsibilities of their home and practices, being overloaded with the patients and their paperwork most of the doctors end up exhausted and distracted. As the condition of burnout is prevailing higher among the practicing physicians, the importance of work-life balance should be focused on for better practicing and stability.
In this article, we will discuss the missed opportunity in optimising the workforce by mainstream telemedicine solutions, and the possibility of alternative means of gainful employment and an enjoyable career experience for healthcare specialists.
Telemedicine is helpful for healthcare providers and professionals in such a way that was not thought to be possible half a century ago. With the increased use of the internet, people want everything accessible under a single touch. And technology has made it for them, and they have it in many fields of life.
Telemedicine was not so common a decade ago but with the increased number of cases, people are looking forward to telecommunication for things or problems that do not necessarily require a physical examination.
Maintaining A Healthy Work-Life Balance with Telemedicine
Telemedicine can be a great way to maintain a healthy work-life balance for physicians to overcome burnout conditions. Here are some benefits that are mainly associated with telemedicine.
Telemedicine has changed the way of work for physicians, they can schedule their appointments with the patients anywhere, anytime. This is the unique opportunity of working remotely that gives physicians comfort of working at a specific day and time. In this way, the practicing physicians can craft their schedule that is suitable for their lifestyle.
A survey was conducted by doctors on demand by their employees, 78% of the health care professionals said that using telemedicine in practice improved their work-life balance to an extent. The most important thing that helps medical professionals with a flexible schedule is they can plan things for themselves either they have the chance to spend quality time with kids, do chores around the house or just take time out for themselves.
Cutting time for Traveling
The life of a doctor is very busy. We often think that the busy part of a doctor’s life is when they are seeing patients. But a lot more goes into his busy schedule than just seeing patients such as the time spent traveling for his patients. Telemedicine has made it easy for physicians to work from the comfort of their home or office. This is true for physicians that work in rural areas, where they have to travel a long way to the hospitals or directly to their patients. By telemedicine, physicians save all the time usually spent traveling to the hospitals and patients.
By attending patients remotely, this cuts all the time wasted in traveling and the stress that comes from regular traveling. All the time saved can be used for more appointments or just spending time with family for work-life balance. This is only possible because of the comfort provided by telemedicine.
Less exposure to illness and infections
In the wake of COVID-19, we all have become conscious about the spread of disease by the touch of the hand thus we rely on social distancing. But without telemedicine, it is not possible for a doctor to experience social distance with his patients. In this time we have realized how important it is for health-care providers to have telemedicine in their life. Telemedicine makes them safe from infections they would have been in direct contact with.
The occupational risk all doctors had to take was the increased risk of being prone to diseases than most people. Doctors can use telemedicine appointments to prescreen the patients for possible infections to help prevent the spread of diseases or infections like COVID-19 and flu. This is a particular benefit to the more senior physicians who may be at greater risk of adverse covid infections due to possible comorbidities or advanced age.
As we have seen in other fields of our life the movement of appointments in online meetings is faster than physical meetings; it is also true for the doctor-patient meeting. Because of the increased pace of life, doctors can see more patients on average through telemedicine than they did through physical examinations.
This practice gives them the edge to earn more revenue. More revenue generation leads us to satisfaction in the area of our financial aid which ultimately leads doctors to cut short their working hours thus maintaining the work-life balance and having more time to spend leisurely or with their families.
Increased revenues also give them independence over their choice of the site which they will use for telemedicine. Because some sites may provide better online facilities than others. Another way of how doctors get increased revenues with the help of telemedicine is when they don’t have to hire a lot of staff and receptionists. They are not required to hire staff because of the online system provided with the help of telemedicine.
Will Telemedicine in 2021 Cure Physician Burnout?
Survey on Physician use of Telemedicine since 2020
In a recent survey of 2000 physicians practicing and working on demand, 78% of physicians mentioned that they are truly interested in telemedicine as it provides improved work-life balance by easing the stress and having control over their schedule. 1 in 5 physicians is already using telemedicine in their practice. It is expected to grow 50% of physicians by 2022 as the world is suffering through a pandemic and is experiencing a lot of technological change.
However follow up surveys showed a great deal of user churn i.e. provider demotivation due to inability to provide their services to constituents beyond their city, state or country. Immense medical insurance regulations also made it difficult to be reimbursed on parity with usual physical visits. Telemedicine physicians from many developed healthcare systems, complained of being severely underpaid for their services in lieu of previously reimbursed for prescriptions, diagnostic referrals and a general decrease in patient turnover.
It is apparent that low interest in mainstream telemedicine platforms, supported by major private insurance payers or government bodies, was a result of excessive regulations that limited the potential coverage to beyond state (or even cross-border) and in turn a general low payment parity from lack of involvement in value-based provider reimbursement.
Some providers had to supplement their incomes by taking on shifts in other specialties, moonlighting in other service industries or have even resigned from the medical field in protest of mounting stresses from this burnout.
What can be done on Doctors Day 2021?
The world may celebrate Doctors Day 2021in full jubilations for the countless lives saved from coronavirus complications and the myriad of health issues affecting society. But the question remains on how to properly give support for their tireless contributions in the middle of a global pandemic.
Many industries have taken charge of their digital transformation, some could not adapt in time, but most have reaped the rewards of fully remote work, automations and digital transactions. The health sector too has seen a great deal of investment opportunities in digital health technologies.
But the human element requires further investment in resources and legislative leniency in the Post-Covid Era.
I think the biggest challenge is that doctors are no longer in charge. But at the same time it is our licenses and our liability that is at risk.
Dr. Kris Emily McCrory, MD Family Medicine Physician based in Schenectady NY
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