This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Although the pandemic is no longer considered an urgent public health emergency, COVID’s effect on healthcare workers continues to persist. In fact, a recent assessment found a third of nurses are actively looking to exit the field entirely in the next year.
With burnout remaining a significant contributor to employee turnover in the industry, how can health systems do more to support care teams and change course?
In this episode of the Memora Health Care Delivery Podcast, we sit with Elizabeth Popwell, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at Stony Brook Medicine, to discuss how healthcare can learn from resilience and embrace innovation to address burnout.
Resilience is important — but it doesn’t address care team burnout
It’s an understatement to say healthcare workers have been incredibly heroic during the pandemic. Care teams had to not only stretch themselves to accommodate heavy patient volumes and an influx of critical patients, but also keep up with rapidly shifting safety standards — proving an outstanding resilience rarely seen in other industries.
But, Popwell suggests, to truly begin addressing burnout, health system leaders need to understand nobody is infinitely resilient .
Popwell says, “Coming out of the pandemic and coming into whatever this new era looks like, it’s clear that it’s different. We’ve been changed forever in healthcare … We’ve learned that resilience is important and that people can rally together and do things differently. But they only have so much ability to do that before they hit that burnout factor.”
That being said, burnout doesn’t just affect existing staff members. It also poses an existential threat to expanding an increasingly in-demand workforce.
Popwell explains, “Healthcare is losing a lot of knowledgeable and qualified people to non-healthcare entities or retirement because they couldn’t sustain that effort long term. We also know, statistically, that the number of enrollment and younger generations going into healthcare is much smaller.”
Innovative digital healthcare concepts need to be part of medical education
Forward-thinking digital health platforms have the potential to help leaders better support their clinicians to work at the top of their license and save precious hours throughout the day, possibly empowering care teams with more fulfilling work and helping them find a slice of time to decompress.
But identifying and implementing new technology can take time, research, and effort. That’s why, Popwell argues, medical education needs to catch up to emerging digital health trends to prepare professionals to hit the ground running when they enter their healthcare careers.
“Let’s think down the road. We’re educating social workers, health professionals, dentists … [and] we have to think about three years, five years, ten years [from now] … Care is going to look completely different when these students graduate. We need to start thinking about what that looks like now so that we can strengthen our curriculum.”
Build consensus when adopting new healthtech
Most health systems understand they’ll need to adopt innovative technologies for their organizations to support their teams and make care delivery more efficient. But finding the right intelligent care enablement platform to do the job is easier said than done.
Popwell suggests healthcare leaders can’t make decisions about healthtech investments alone, and must include voices from across their care teams to understand what they will need to accomplish their goals. Popwell says, “Change management and culture are very important … If you can build a consensus and build a vision that everyone buys into, I think that’s the first step.”
Discussing how executives can effectively start consensus-building, Popwell adds, “I think it starts with transparency and open communication.”