Leveraging AI-powered speech recognition tech to reduce NHS staff burnout

From Open Access Government

The last 18 months have pushed our National Health Service (NHS) to breaking point. Services that were already overstretched and underfunded have been subjected to unprecedented strain on their resources. This strain has now become a national emergency, risking the entire future of the health service, according to a recent government report.

From treating countless Covid-19 cases and supporting vaccination programmes, to providing essential treatment and care, UK healthcare professionals are at maximum capacity and, understandably, struggling to cope. In fact, a recent survey from Nuance revealed that this period has led to dramatic increases in stress and anxiety across primary (75%) and secondary (60%) care within the NHS. When excessively high levels of stress are experienced over a prolonged period, it can result in clinician burnout which, in turn, can lead to many feeling like they have no choice but to leave the medical professional altogether. In England, GP surgeries lost almost 300 full-time medical professionals in the three months prior to Christmas and, by 2023, a shortfall of 7,000 GPs is anticipated, according to recent reports. In addition, it is believed that up to a third of nurses are thinking about leaving their profession due to pandemic-related burnout.  

These individuals enabled and maintained a new front line in the wake of the pandemic. They are also the people that we applauded every week and depended on during the most challenging days. However, the unwavering pressure and heavy workloads are causing significant damage to their own health. An urgent and effective solution is required if the NHS is to continue delivering its life-saving services and care.

The burden of administrative processes

Over the course of the pandemic, the way in which healthcare services are delivered has changed. One of the most significant changes has been a shift towards teleconsultations or virtual appointments. A RCGP investigation of GP appointments discovered that prior to the pandemic as much as 70% of consultations were face-to-face. This diminished to 23% during the first weeks of the crisis.

While some medical professionals and patients are in favour of this new format, for many, the swift switch to a virtual approach has generated an influx of workload, especially when it comes to documentation processes. In fact, Nuance’s research revealed that 67% of primary care respondents believe the pandemic has increased the overall amount of clinical administration. Although there are a few causational factors, such as heavy workloads and time pressure, the transition towards remote consultations appears to be a significant contributor. This is because the risk factor and diagnostic uncertainty of remote consultations are generally higher than face to face appointments. Also, patients that are triaged by telephone often still need a follow-up face to face appointment which is leading to more double handling of patients than happened in the past.

Before the pandemic, clinicians were reportedly spending an average of 11 hours per week on clinical documentation. This figure is only likely to have increased during the pandemic’s peak, when hospitals were at their busiest and remote appointments were most needed. And, we’re not in the clear yet, as the vaccination programme continues to progress and teleconsultation is set to stay. Therefore, moving forward, we need to think about how we can best support our clinical professionals by easing their administrative burden.

AI-powered speech recognition: a step in the right direction

Modern technologies – such as speech recognition solutions – can be leveraged to help reduce some of the administrative pressures being placed on clinical professionals and enable them to work smarter and more effectively. These technologies are designed to recognise and record passages of speech, converting them into detailed clinical notes, regardless of how quickly they’re delivered. By reducing repetition and supporting standardisation across departments, they can also enhance the accuracy as well as the quality of patient records. For example, voice activated clinical note templates can provide a standardised structure to a document or letter, thus meeting the requirements set out by the PRSB (Professional Record Standards Body).

Using secure, cloud-based speech solutions, healthcare professionals are able to benefit from these tools no matter where they are based. The latest technologies provide users with the option to access their single voice profile from different devices and locations, even when signing in from home. This advancement could significantly reduce the administrative burden of virtual consultations, therefore helping to decrease burnout levels amongst NHS staff.

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust is one of many organisations already benefiting from this technology. The team there leveraged speech recognition as part of a wider objective to help all staff members and patients throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Serving a population of around 470,000 people and employing approximately 6,000 employees, the trust wanted to save time and enable doctors to improve safety, whilst minimising inflection risk. By using this technology on mobile phones. clinicians could instantly update patient records without having to touch shared keyboards. Having experienced the benefits of this solution, the trust is considering leveraging speech recognition to support virtual consultations conducted over MS Teams, in order to enhance the quality of consultations, while alleviating some of the pressures placed upon employees. 

This challenging period has only emphasised how vital the NHS is within the UK. However, the increased workloads and administrative duties brought on by the pandemic are causing higher levels of burnout than ever before. Something needs to change and although technology advancements such as AI-powered speech recognition is now part of the solution there is also a need for public bodies to determine why the administrative burden has continued to rise and perhaps reassess the importance of bureaucratic tasks and where it is essential for information to be recorded.

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