The effects of the global pandemic extend beyond COVID-19 itself. While patients struggled with the disease, doctors, nurses, and frontline workers also struggled with the personal and professional toll of the pandemic. One journal noted that “The realities of the COVID-19 cancer-care era resulted in a multifold increase in oncologist distress because of numerous practice changes, intensified burnout, heightened moral distress, and personal challenges (e.g., family stressors) produced by the pandemic.”1
These negative effects were a widespread phenomenon, affecting doctors of every age and specialty. A 2020 Medscape survey of 15,000 physicians found that 42 percent of all participants felt burned out, including 46 percent of radiologists and 35 percent of surgeons. While physician burnout existed before the pandemic, COVID-19 brought the issue to the forefront. Even as caseloads lower and vaccination rates increase, burnout will remain a critical issue facing the medical community. 2
Often, it’s the lifestyle and the time commitment that drive burnout. It’s the night calls and weekends, which take away from personal time and family time. It’s the long hours and the inflexibility. And when your income is tied to your productivity—whether you’re self-employed or employed in a big system—it becomes more difficult to take care of yourself.
In addition to mental and emotional distress, the loss of leadership, skill, and experience are also problematic outcomes that arise from burnout. The system is losing people in their 60s who are otherwise in good health and were going to continue to work. They’re well-respected in their fields and their knowledge is invaluable, and as a consequence, their burnout affects the entire healthcare system.
Hospitals and administrators must examine new methods and technologies to support healthcare workers to lessen the potential for burnout. In the case of breast cancer treatment, traditional wire-guided localization methods—involving a protruding wire being implanted in the breast to mark the lesion, before being removed through surgery—continue to be the standard in most hospitals. Both procedures must be performed on the same day, and any complications in the first procedure can cause delays or possible cancellation of the second procedure—creating a domino effect that adds stress for care teams.
This lack of autonomy is a contributing factor to physician burnout, 3 but the introduction of wire-free localization techniques can help alleviate this unpredictability in clinical workflow. Patients undergo a short five-minute procedure to implant a tissue marker and are then able to go home. Decoupling the two procedures allows for increased flexibility and removes unpredictability in workflow, ensuring unforeseen events and circumstances do not affect scheduling.
Wire-free localization not only provides more control and less stress for physicians, but one study found that it also reduced complexity in workflow, resulting in a 34 percent increase in the utilization of time slots dedicated for biopsies and a 50 percent savings in time spent scheduling procedures, while reducing patient wait times for surgery by four days. 4 Wire-free techniques have been shown to improve physician satisfaction by being easy to adopt 5 and easy to use, while lessening patient anxiety 6 and improving the patient experience.
Whether it’s telemedicine, electronic medical records or breast cancer localization, new technology must seamlessly integrate into healthcare systems and enhance them. They should be physically less demanding and less time consuming. Technology must allow for greater communication and collaboration through unified systems and compatibility. If they don’t improve workflow and performance, they’re hurting physicians and patients, not helping them.
A shift in mindset from the triple aim—enhancing the patient experience, improving the health of the population, and reducing the per capita cost of healthcare—to the quadruple aim to include the care of physicians could strengthen healthcare systems and create resilience in doctors, nurses and staff. New technologies must consider and prioritize all four pillars of providing care in order to be effective.
Reducing physician burnout saves lives. Retaining more experienced leaders ensures that invaluable knowledge and guidance are passed on to new doctors. Reducing stress through compatible systems and technology lessens the burden on physicians and leads to better information sharing and greater efficiency.
Ultimately, patients are able to receive the care they need and physicians are better equipped—mentally, emotionally, technologically, and professionally—to provide that care.
- Hlubocky, Fay J., Symington, Banu E., et al. "Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Oncologist Burnout, Emotional Well-Being, and Moral Distress: Considerations for the Cancer Organization’s Response for Readiness, Mitigation, and Resilience," DOI: 10.1200/OP.20.00937 JCO Oncology Practice 17, no. 7 (July 01, 2021) 365-374.
- Medscape 2020 survey.
- Patel, Rikinkumar S., Bachu, Ramya, et al "Factors Related to Physician Burnout and Its Consequences: A Review," Behav Sci (Basel). 2018 Nov; 8(11): 98. Published online 2018 Oct 25. doi: 10.3390/bs8110098.
- Sharek, Danielle, Zuly, Margarita L, et al "Radioactive seed localization versus wire localization for lumpectomies: a comparison of outcomes," AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2015 Apr;204(4):872-7. doi: 10.2214/AJR.14.12743.
- Look Hong, N., Wright, F.C., Semple, M. et al. "Results of a phase I, non-randomized study evaluating a Magnetic Occult Lesion Localization Instrument (MOLLI) for excision of non-palpable breast lesions." Breast Cancer Res Treat 179, 671–676 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10549-019-05499-z
- Law, W., Look Hong, N., Ravi, A. et al. "Budget Impact Analysis of Preoperative Radioactive Seed Localization." Ann Surg Oncol 28, 1370–1378 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1245/s10434-020-09071-8