Easing The Burden of Burnout With Technology

Lani Bertrand, RPh, joins the latest episode of Over The Counter to discuss the role of technology in easing burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drug Topics®: Hello, and welcome to Over The Counter, a podcast from Drug Topics®. I’m your host, Lauren Biscaldi, managing editor of Drug Topics®. Today I’m joined by Lani Bertrand, RPh, senior director of clinical consulting at Omnicell to discuss pharmacist burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic and how technology can ease some of the burdens that pharmacists face.

Lani, thank you so much for joining us today. Could you please give viewers an introduction and tell me about your role at Omnicell?

Bertrand: Sure, and thanks for your time today, as well. I appreciate it.

I am a pharmacist with a unique blend of both clinical pharmacy practice and healthcare industry experience. I have had the pleasure of working with various health systems across the country. Through my role, I have been able to assist them in addressing operational efficiency, medication utilization and inventory management, as well as pharmacy automation and technology adoption.

At Omnicell, I enjoy applying my experiences to my current role, where I am the senior director of clinical consulting. I lead a great team of both clinical and technical subject matter experts. They work with our sales team to help support our customers as they look to enhance their pharmacy operations and ultimately improve patient care.

Drug Topics®: Great, thank you so much for that. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has begun, we have heard a lot about heightened burnout in the health care community, particularly among pharmacists. Would you be able to discuss some of the ways that burnout has manifested within the pharmacy profession over the last year and a half?

Bertrand: Absolutely. While it is important to highlight the fact that the pandemic has brought attention to the impact on pharmacy and healthcare staffing, I think it is equally notable to call out that burnout was rising prior to the pandemic.

It is likely that COVID-19 exacerbated those challenges. If I look at a recent pharmacy workforce survey, almost 70% of pharmacists reported that their workload was heavy, if not excessively heavy, and their frustration levels were reported as high.

Also, more recently, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a survey and published their findings on this topic. Those findings were from the beginning of the pandemic, but even then, pharmacists were reporting an average of 50% burnout rates.

Part two of that study is underway. I had more recently noticed this survey and it will be interesting as we move further into the pandemic what those findings will be.

Drug Topics®: Unfortunately, with recent shortages and labor challenges, I am wondering if those numbers of burnout might tick upward?

Bertrand: Yeah, I was just reading something recently about how they're anticipating the Bureau of Labor Statistics is anticipating a 10-year shortage in the healthcare workforce, which was just incredible to me. I wonder how much of that was the pre-burnout, that the pandemic exacerbated.

We were already experiencing shortages, especially for primary care providers. This explains why some of this recent legislation aimed at provider status is getting more attention to help close that gap as well.

Drug Topics®: Yeah, it is nice to see that they're taking steps on a legislative level to address it. Great. Do you envision technology solutions as a way that pharmacists can alleviate burnout or do these solutions stand to add on to the current pharmacist’s workload?

Bertrand: That is a great question because I think that at one point in time, technology was viewed as a burden. It was something that pharmacy had to add additional FTEs to help get it going so to speak and to shorten learning curves. I think that has since changed.

If we look at the technology that is even offered with additional services (such as assisting sites in ramping up quickly and allowing an expert to provide ongoing monitoring), technology can be the best thing that we can do to enhance workflow to bring about increased medication safety.

Certainly, job satisfaction is a component. For example, if I am a pharmacist and I am allowed to do more of what I love through being closer to my patient, that is beneficial. Therefore, if done correctly, technology can make a big difference.

To give a couple of examples, I can cite a health system in Ohio where they implemented robotic technology in their central pharmacy to address medication dispensing needs for a few hospitals.

They utilized technology to remove manual processes at other sites and instituted a barcode scan and scan out concept, which in turn reduced medication errors, and certainly again, put clinical workforce closer to the patient clinical duties.

I think another area to call out that is important, is the rising use of technology. For IV medications and sterile compounding, we want to do everything we can to ensure medication safety and accuracy of those preparations. Additionally, we also want to look at the individual. There are even studies demonstrating manual fatigue for doing some of those procedures repetitively, over again and again. There are lots of ways to improve pharmacy operations and to help with that job satisfaction by removing some of the workload from those individuals in the pharmacy.

Drug Topics®: Yeah, it sounds like it's a really great opportunity to streamline a lot of efficiencies for pharmacists, and take away the burden of those manuals. It sounds like it would allow them to care for their patients, which is what you signed up to do.Is there one area in particular that you can mention, in which pharmacists can really optimize their workflow through technology?

Bertrand: Certainly, I think most of us pharmacists, whether we were practicing in retail community or in a hospital setting, we are very familiar with how technology can help us with repackaging through filling vials with large scale, mirror mail order operations, and so forth.

I think the new areas to look at (in terms of technology) would be along the lines of inventory management. This is because it is beneficial to have a broad system of visibility, in addition to utilizing real time insights, and the potential for benchmarking. With that said, nothing has highlighted that greater than the recent pandemic.

If you think about how we had an influx of patients who needed a higher acuity level of care, the medications that they were demanding or needing for that care are also sometimes difficult to come by. They're unfortunately at the top of a drug shortage list at time.

If I am the leader of a health system it is beneficial to know what I had, where it is, and how I could move that to that new area of acuity. Additionally, I would have the opportunity to take better care of patients, minimize my risk, or even my additional spend to accumulate additional drugs. That is really where we should focus in as far as finding efficiencies.

Drug Topics®: That's very interesting, particularly how it relates to the whole supply chain issue with medications. I don't know that there are easy solutions to that, but it's nice to see that there are options out there to help mitigate, where it can be mitigated.

Bertrand: Exactly. I think, and that can apply to all aspects of pharmacy, because the supply chain impact is so great. Everyone needs to become a little bit more shrewd, and on top of their game, as far as knowing what they have and how to get it quickly.

Drug Topics®: Yeah, for sure. If you could leave our listeners with one piece of parting advice for addressing burnout, through technology or through other means, what would that piece of advice be?

Bertrand: Well again, I am very glad that we're talking about this important topic as it impacts not only pharmacists, but all health care workers. It is unfortunate that the rate of burnout in this industry is probably greater than in other industries.

So, it is important that we look for ways to lessen that and technology is the answer. I think the key takeaway here is to embrace the use of technology, to not see it as a burden, to look for ways where technology with services added to help you implement and ramp up quickly is truly the way to go. Further, to look at technology across all aspects like we covered.

It is not just a matter of serving as a packaging alternative, but it's your true hub of the pharmacy ecosystem so that we can use those important clinical players in the areas where we need the closest to patient care. This allows them to achieve better job satisfaction because they are doing what they signed up for. We did not go into this to manage manual reports and spend hours tracking things down. We wanted to do this to provide the best clinical service for the best patient care.

Drug Topics®: Thank you to Lani for taking the time out of your busy schedule to have this fascinating discussion on burnout technology, and the pharmacy profession.

If you enjoyed this episode, check out our other podcasts, available on drugtopics.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. As always, thank you for listening and I hope to see you next time at the counter.