Skip to main content

HIMSS22 Takes on Healthcare's Biggest Challenges

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   March 15, 2022

From addressing stress and burnout to understanding value-based care, this week's conference asks attendees to reimagine healthcare.

Healthcare leaders are looking for ways to reimagine healthcare at HIMSS22. For many of them, that may begin by looking inward.

Stress and burnout have been a problem in healthcare even before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 crisis has pushed that problem into hyperdrive. Healthcare organizations are dealing with low morale, an exodus of tired and dispirited staff, and a shortage of new care providers to bolster the ranks. And administrators are looking for new ideas to make the workplace better.

Amid the conversations taking place at the Orange County Convention Center this week in Orlando, there is plenty of talk about new technologies and services aimed at identifying stress and burnout in healthcare and giving people on-demand access to care and resources. But a key component to addressing stress might often be overlooked: Collaboration.

"We need to focus on building communities within the hospital," says Jessica Sweeney-Platt, vice president of research and editorial strategy at athenahealth. And that, she says, means bridging the gap between administrators and providers.

Sweeney-Platt and Nele Jessel, MD, athenahealth's chief medical officer, will be giving a presentation this Thursday titled "How the C-Suite and Physicians Can Team Up to Combat Burnout." The session is aimed at pulling executives into the conversation with clinicians so that they can develop strategies that best address why clinicians are stressed out.

And that conversation begins with the electronic health record.

Jessel says the EHR has taken a lot of blame over the past decade for making life miserable for clinicians, and the pandemic's push away from in-person services and toward virtual care has compounded the issue. But the problem may be more one of change management than change itself, and the solution may lie in giving clinicians more time to get used to the technology.

"The negative view of the EHR as adding to their misery clearly has not helped," she says. "That makes it more difficult to see [technology] as an advantage. That point has to be made."

Now, the "technology is good for you" argument might not sit well with a physician population that tends to see the EHR as a billing and regulatory tool, and one that takes them away from their patients and turns them into data clerks. But that technology can be beneficial if clinicians are given the time and support to become comfortable with it.

Jessel and Sweeney-Platt say clinicians should be given protected administrative time to learn how to use the EHR, so that time spent on the EHR is a benefit to clinical care rather than a distraction. That means carving out specific time for training, separate from patient care but not added to the workload, so that clinicians can understand how the technology improves caregiving.

"How can we afford not to do this?" asks Sweeney-Platt, noting the toll that stress and burnout have had on the healthcare industry.

In addition, clinicians are feeling stressed because they're being overwhelmed with data—and again, the blame lies with technology, which allows access to so much unstructured information. Organizations need to prioritize tools and processes that sort through the data and give clinicians what they need, rather than forcing clinicians to do that work, Jessel says.

Jessel and Sweeney-Platt say an important part of addressing stress and burnout in the provider community is understanding why clinicians feel this way and collaborating with them on resources and services that help improve their workloads and mindsets. They also need time and support from the C-suite to adjust to technology.

This goes for virtual care as well. Many healthcare organizations shifted from in-person to virtual care during the height of the pandemic to reduce the burden on hospitals and reduce the spread of the virus. As the pandemic wanes, organizations are trying to find a balance between virtual and in-person care.

Some providers have embraced this shift to telehealth, but many others are wary of the burden on their already-overtaxed workloads, and wondering where virtual care fits in. Jessel and Sweeney-Platt say the C-suite should be highlighting virtual care as a means of improving workflows. Again, that means taking the time to help physicians understand the technology.

"Virtual care has the potential to give autonomy back to physicians," Sweeney-Platt points out. "It can be a better use of your time, and it can save patients time. But it needs to be supported."

As with the EHR, collaboration between the C-suite and physicians is important, Sweeney-Platt and Jessel say. Executives should work with clinicians to identify how to adapt virtual care and to offer support and training where those processes might be stressful.

And that's where those communities come into play.

"To what degree are we making it easy for [care providers] to find community within the organization?" asks Sweeney-Platt, who's particularly interested in the high rates of stress among women. She says the healthcare setting—particularly during the pandemic—may be doing more to isolate providers from their colleagues, depriving them of a critical means of adjustment and support. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for providers to see the benefit in new strategies.

Sweeney-Platt says health system administrators need to emphasize community, so that providers have a shared sense of purpose and experience. They can lean on and learn from each other.

This, of course, leads to the last and newest leg of the triple—now quadruple—aim in healthcare. The shift to value-based care means that healthcare organizations must rethink how healthcare is valued. And the pandemic has moved the goalposts on how value is defined, placing more of an emphasis on quality and access and less on episodic care and repetitive services.

Sweeney-Platt and Jessel also want to see a shift to better care for the caregivers, and a commitment from the C-suite to invest in tools and services that reduce stress and improve workloads. That includes giving them more time to absorb and master the technology they'll be using to care for patients, as well as better access to resources and their colleagues. 

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


As HIMS22 convenes this week in Orlando, attendees are being asked to toss out old ideas about healthcare and rethink how it can be delivered and defined.

The conference is also addressing what healthcare organizations are doing to address high rates of stress and burnout among providers.

The event is highlighting the value of virtual care, which is pushing health systems to reconsider how they define value—both to consumers and care providers.

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.