Can closed-loop communication help mitigate clinical lab burnout? (A closer look)

It’s well-known that burnout among healthcare workers is at an all-time high. But, it’s not just affecting patient-facing staff like physicians and nurses. Burnout extends well beyond the bedside, affecting healthcare staff who play a behind-the-scenes role. Like those working in the clinical laboratory.  

In fact, a survey conducted pre-pandemic by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) found that while lab professionals reported high job satisfaction, 85.3% reported experiencing burnout. Add a pandemic on top of that and it’s safe to say laboratory professionals are experiencing record levels of burnout. 

This rise in burnout across all corners of healthcare is consistent with the findings from our recent survey, Burnout in healthcare: A report for today’s leaders (download the full report for more). Understanding and addressing the pain points for clinical laboratory staff is critical to keeping them engaged and healthy. 

What’s behind clinical lab burnout? 

Of course, a major contributor to the rising levels of burnout is the ongoing pandemic. As more people are tested for COVID 19, as patients return to hospitals and clinics for other routine tests, and a lack of staffing has created even more demanding workloads and increasing levels of burnout. Aside from the mounting pressure of an already demanding job, there are existing barriers for lab staff that make it difficult for them to do their jobs.  

From poor communication to difficulty connecting with clinicians, lab staff often navigate antiquated systems to get their jobs done. Without the proper technology in place, lab technologists spend critical time that they don’t have completing tasks manually, tracking down answers, and waiting on hold to relay results to a provider.  

Laboratorians are regularly required to spend a lot of precious time looking for the appropriate care provider to call to deliver a critical test result. And when they aren’t able to connect, results communication and patient care are delayed. 

Failure to communicate the right information, to the right member of the care team, at the right time, can lead to patient harm, frustrate already overworked staff, and increase costs. Without closed-loop communication systems in place, the tasks burdening lab professionals are occupying their mental energy and hours in the day that they should be dedicating to performing complex lab testing.  

Plus, labor shortages in labs can lead to long hours with little time off, resulting in a lack of work/life balance for workers to refresh and recharge.  

What’s the impact of laboratory staff burnout? 

The impact of clinical lab staff burnout is huge. Burnout can lead to inaccuracies in results, causing an increase in errors and decrease in quality. This can affect patient diagnoses and treatment plans. Burnout impacts productivity. This means that lab results lag, and with the already convoluted communication structure, patients are left waiting for important news for longer. And, burnout causes labor shortages, leading to high demand on an already strained workforce. 

Luckily, there are solutions that can help to ease the strain, streamline processes, and as a result, help reduce burnout for our clinical lab technicians. 

How can technology help reduce burnout?

Solving burnout in laboratories isn’t an easy, overnight fix. But a simple step in the right direction can make it easier for laboratorians to do their jobs. 

Technology can help. By implementing a closed-loop communication process, new efficiencies can relieve some of the mental and time strains that old systems often cause. Gone could be the days of waiting on hold for a nurse to deliver a critical result, spending precious time paging a physician only to never hear back, or tracking down information manually due to a lack of system integrations.  

Plus, having a strong critical test results communication platform helps improve patient care and safety. It can also enhance physician, nurse, and staff productivity, which is more critical than ever in the current environment.  

Solutions like Spok Go are now able to quickly transmit patient test results to the responsible provider. With actionable results reaching providers quickly and being automatically documented in the system of record, patients can get treatment sooner. This eliminates manual processes and phone calls, including the important step of confirming that the result reached and was accepted by the responsible caregiver, ultimately improving outcomes. By eliminating the pain points of communications, lab staff can focus fully on what they’re really there for. 

While we can’t solve the problem of burnout overnight, we can implement tools and systems that reduce the strain, bridge the gaps, and increase productivity without exacerbating burnout.

What did 200+ healthcare professionals say about burnout in healthcare in 2021? Read about their perceptions of burnout, the impact of COVID-19, and recommended strategies to help tackle it in our latest eBook, Burnout in healthcare: A report for today’s leaders.