In an effort to understand the ongoing physician burnout crisis, Lightning Bolt Solutions, a company that offers AI-based, physician shift scheduling technology, is attempting to study one million physician shift hours. The study will focus on the root of burnout and how to solve the problem.
“We are focusing on ‘burning in’ to the deadly, damaging crisis of physician burnout with an epidemiological approach,” Suvas Vajracharya, PhD, founder and chief executive officer of Lightning Bolt Solutions, said in a release. “Our goal for this research is to shape how healthcare organizations build more balanced workplaces for physicians, helping to make medicine safer for everyone.”
Physician burnout is a widespread issue throughout the United States, and symptoms can include emotional exhaustion and a lack of personal accomplishment. Several efforts have been launched to stop the crisis in various areas of study, including a recent suggestion of adopting AI into radiologist workflows to reduce symptoms of burnout.
“We have the data already that shows us what burnout is doing to physicians, patients and healthcare organizations. Now, we need data that will show us how we can prevent and resolve burnout from a practical, operational standpoint,” Vajracharya told AI in Healthcare. “We believe studying the real roots of burnout—looking at the data from one million hours of physician shifts, across specialties—will paint a clearer picture for us as to how healthcare organizations can make medicine safer.”
The company launched the Pathology of Burnout Initiative earlier this month and has already received more than 1,000 data points from physicians, according to Vajracharya. Lightning Bolt Solutions manages more than 3 million physician shift hours each month, and Vajracharya believes that’s a large enough sample size for the study.
Physicians using the company’s AI-based mobile app to check their schedules will be prompted once a week to answer an anonymous single-question wellness survey about their burnout symptoms. Those who report high burnout will be redirected to a resource page to help them combat the issue, instead of “suffering in silence,” Vajracharya said.
Though the study starts with collecting data on physician shift hours, the company expects this to be a long-term initiative, with plans to analyze the data to see how physician shift scheduling impacts burnout and release an annual report on the findings.
“We don’t know what we’re going to find from this data, so we’re starting with a broad look at trends. ... As we start to gather more and more data, our researchers will be able to identify the strongest signals,” Vajracharya said. “The data ideally will reveal patterns in burnout. We can drill down the data to specific specialities—OB/GYN, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, radiology and so forth. We can also see if physicians are feeling burned out during specific times of year more than others—for example, during flu season. We can look at the shift the physician worked that day. If it was extended or long, that’s important to know, and the healthcare organization can make necessary changes to provide better balance.”
Vajracharya said the company would also like healthcare organizations to analyze the data anonymously and make adjustments to ensure physician well-being. If burnout is low, they hope the data may reveal what some organizations are doing right.
“Because we can look at the data patterns at a granular level by specialty, facility and time, there’s a lot we can learn about how to address this epidemic in a way that benefits both physicians and patients,” Vajracharya said. “All this can be fed back into our AI platform for optimizing safer physician shift schedules.”
AI can have a role in reducing physician burnout, he said. Many healthcare organizations use the technology to find solutions to problems that “the human brain can’t solve on its own.” He believes organizations can utilize AI to create better shift schedules and prevent physicians from being overworked.
“AI enables healthcare organizations to build smarter physician shift schedules that give doctors balanced hours, safer shifts and more flexibility to take time off, all using the resources they have,” Vajracharya said. “Physicians are overworked, and the practice of pushing physicians to the brink of exhaustion begins in residency. It’s time to change this culture in medicine, and AI can be a catalyst now.”