Burnout is defined as a reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion.
Our clinicians – pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other care providers – know the feeling.
The statistics are alarming: more than 60% of physicians report experiencing at least one symptom of burnout according to the American Medical Association and a peer-reviewed journal indicates that 51% of pharmacists are also burned out.
It’s one of the reasons behind primary care provider (PCP) shortages, which are estimated to reach 124,000 physicians by 2034, according the Association of American Medical Colleges. As PCP shortages worsen, these shortages are among the top concerns for both physicians and pharmacists.
For any clinician, operating under these pressures is unsustainable.
But in 61% of counties with a PCP shortage, there is a high volume of retail pharmacies. It reveals an opportunity for pharmacists, who have the education and training, and are already providing vaccinations, tests and frontline treatments – all administered through the convenience of the community pharmacy – to amplify the impact they can have on providing accessible care in the communities they serve.
But it doesn’t mean clinician burnout takes a backseat. Before we can realize the full benefit of care team collaboration, we must do more to advance technology and align policy and payment structures to address the leading causes of burnout for clinicians, ensuring patients have access to quality, safe and less costly care.
Patient care is evolving
Since mid-November, hospitalizations have increased by 200% for influenza, 60% for RSV and 51% for Covid-19, prompting the CDC to issue an alert to clinicians reinforcing the need to increase vaccinations for these illnesses.
The CDC’s recent alert makes the need for pharmacists to support patient care, administering vaccines for their patients, even more obvious. And fortunately, pharmacists today are equipped to provide routine patient care, like administering vaccines, testing and treating patients for common illnesses, and managing medications for patients with chronic conditions. The education and training they receive is robust, including residency programs and specialized training to care for patients with chronic diseases.
Pharmacists are also uniquely poised to support and complement patient care plans established by their PCP. All 50 states and D.C. recognize pharmacists value to patient care by enabling collaborative practice agreements. And with only one in five adults up to date on immunizations, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to close the vaccination gap this winter and keep Americans safe.
Leveraging care teams and technology to effectively curb burnout
A key component of alleviating burnout across clinical care providers points to leveraging the entire care team. There’s mounting evidence that clinicians, including 89% of prescribers and 97% of pharmacists, believe it’s important for the healthcare industry to move to a team-based care model.
As part of a panel discussion on burnout and the need for physicians and pharmacists to collaborate as a team, Nele Jessel, chief medical officer for athenahealth, said, “oftentimes patients have an established relationship with the pharmacist and may be more likely to share side effects,” and the pharmacist can bring real value, identifying potential interactions between medications and alerting the provider. She added, “where that expertise is available, it should be leveraged.”
Combining technology and empowering clinicians to do more in outpatient care is another way to cut down the amount of back and forth between the practice and within the pharmacy. Technology has helped make patient clinical records and medications much more accessible – and legible. Dr. Jessel also noted, “while EHR technology has brought much good to the table, it remains a major contributor to provider burnout. As paradoxical as [it] may seem, technology will also be the solution to the technology problem.”
While advancing technology and using it efficiently and effectively is part of the solution, without the policy and payment structures that could truly empower them as part of the patient care team, technology can only go so far. A comprehensive approach to streamline pharmacy operations and empower pharmacists to support care teams is essential.
Policy, payment to match
Pharmacists are prescribing as part of collaborative practice agreements and within certain care settings like health systems or clinics. According to new data, e-prescriptions issued by pharmacists also increased 47% between 2019 to 2022. When nearly 20% of all American adults have two or more chronic conditions and 52% for those age 65 and older, it tracks that in 2022, this data also revealed that the top three drug classes prescribed by pharmacists included: diabetes mellitus agents or medications to treat diabetes, psychoanaleptics used to treat mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and ADHD, and antithrombotic agents or blood thinning medications.
While incorporating pharmacists as part of the care team is a positive step, challenges persist related to pharmacists being appropriately reimbursed for the care they are providing. Whether delivering patient care under these agreements or providing flu and Covid-19 vaccines in a retail setting, pharmacy staff shortages and burdensome workloads are growing more unsustainable each day.
Existing technology that connects providers and allows the secure exchange of patient clinical information is another key component to care teams filling gaps and delivering quality care to patients.
But delivering patient intelligence to the care team is just one part—the healthcare industry must continue moving forward to align the policy and payment structures that fully empower pharmacists to continue caring for patients alongside physicians, as part of a team.
Photo: JohnnyGreig, Getty Images