Healthcare is Failing Overwhelmed Clinicians — Here’s How to Focus on Their Journey
By Michelle Davey
Michelle Davey is co-founder and CEO of Wheel of Austin, TX.
Over the last few years, the health tech industry has invested billions into improving the patient experience. Direct-to-consumer healthcare companies raised $1.2 billion in Q1 2021 alone. Now patients can get prescriptions delivered to their door and avoid the pharmacy line. They can skip the waiting room and chat with a doctor from their couch. They can even get their blood drawn without leaving their home.
But it’s been surprising to see the industry pay so little attention to clinicians, especially with the critical role they play in the patient journey. They are setting expectations, determining treatment plans, and listening to patients’ concerns. Yet for some reason, we continue to set clinicians up to fail.
Think about how you feel on your worst day at work. Tired, stressed, and overwhelmed, right? That’s how clinicians feel every day with their patients. Nearly half of clinicians reported alarming rates of burnout before the pandemic. Over the last year, 80% of people said their doctor or nurse seemed burned out during a healthcare visit. Even more concerning, one in three said they believe their quality of care may have been affected by clinician burnout.
That’s why the digital health industry should look at “D2C” through a new lens: direct-to-clinician. It doesn’t matter how much time and investment we spend on improving the patient journey. When clinicians are burned out and overwhelmed, patients won’t feel satisfied. But if clinicians feel supported and set up for success, patients will be motivated to take charge of their health.
Here are three ways to put a D2C(linician) strategy in place:
Prioritize the Clinician As Your End User
When developing a clinician-facing product, get clinician feedback early and often. That includes surveys, interviews, demos, and beta launches, just like any company would do with consumers before launching a product. Feedback is a gift and bringing clinicians along the journey is worth the investment. Clinicians want, need, and deserve user-friendly tech, processes, and workflows.
Also, look for opportunities to hear the clinical voice outside of product development. In our company all-hands meetings, we share clinician feedback about what we’re doing well and where we can improve. This tight feedback loop helps us stay honest and it keeps us focused on clinicians and what they need to do their job well.
Invest in Ongoing Education and Coaching
Remember that clinicians are highly trained and educated. They love to learn and they’re eager to upskill throughout their career. That includes traditional opportunities like continuing medical education (CME), which offers the latest research and best practices in developing areas of their field. But they also want to stay on the cutting edge of technology and care models. Especially in light of the pandemic and the transition towards virtual-first care.
Clinicians now have 50 to 175 times the number of virtual visits compared to before the pandemic. Medical schools have largely failed to provide comprehensive training on virtual care. But it’s also the digital health industry’s responsibility to make it as easy as possible for clinicians to understand how to treat patients remotely.
Before clinicians start seeing patients with Wheel, for example, we provide them with “webside manner” training. This includes:
- Testing their webcam, microphone, and speakers before a patient visit.
- Looking into the camera throughout the visit to make eye contact with the patient.
- Nodding their head during the visit to demonstrate active listening.
- Dressing professionally to set a good impression.
- Picking a neutral background to avoid distraction.
For those who have spent the pandemic on back-to-back Zoom meetings, some of this guidance may feel obvious. But clinicians are used to being in the same room as their patients. We need to help them feel comfortable and confident behind the screen.
Cultivate a New Work Culture
Doctors and nurses are well known for putting up with long shifts and demanding schedules, but they’re fed up, burned out, and overwhelmed. The toll and trauma of the pandemic has led three in 10 clinicians to think about quitting their jobs altogether. Digital health companies not only have an opportunity to create a new work culture for clinicians, they have an obligation. It’s incredibly challenging and expensive to recruit and retain clinicians. If the workforce continues to shrink because we aren’t providing them with the support they deserve, our innovative devices and services will go dark.
One of the ways we focus on retention is by getting to know clinicians as people, just like we do with our engineers and product managers. Our team regularly conducts surveys and interviews to better understand their motivations, their career aspirations, and how the pandemic has affected both their work and personal life. For example, we found the majority of clinicians in our network are the primary income earners for their family. As with many of us, the pandemic had placed them under extra stress to provide for their families. These findings prompted our team to offer free therapy services so they could get support during a tumultuous time without needing to worry about the cost.
The digital health industry should continue to focus on improving the patient experience, but we need to consider all the factors that impact the patient experience. Getting clinician feedback early and often, investing in ongoing coaching and education, and finding opportunities to better understand their career aspirations and motivations should be table stakes for every digital health company. This is our opportunity to address one of the biggest failures of our healthcare system — providing clinicians with the support they need to provide great care to patients.
Investing in a D2C(linician) model now will pay off in the long term, keeping our caregivers engaged, patients healthy, and investors impressed. Now that’s a winning strategy.