14 billion clinical lab tests are performed every year. In addition, 1 billion COVID-19 tests have been completed (ref3). The results of these 14 billion tests inform 70% of all medical decisions(ref3). Therefore the accuracy and timeliness of lab test results are critically important to the health of our patients.
Reasons for the Stress and Burnout
In a survey of clinical lab personnel, published by the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ref4):
85.3% of medical lab professionals Felt Burnout -49.9% reported as a current issue. 69.3% considered changing careers (44.4%) or retiring (24.9%).
Most burnout were among molecular biologists (91.8%), least burnout were among phlebotomists at 70.1%.
Top 5 reasons for Burnout:
Lack of adequate staffing (36.5%)
Heavy workload and pressure to complete all testing (31.5%)
Lack of understanding and support from management (16.3%)
Lack of control over schedule (15.1%)
Lack of appreciation/recognition/respect (14.9%)
53.4% of medical lab professionals experience a High level of Job Stress:
Workload (74.6%) – feeling overwhelmed
Working with colleagues (45.1%)
Inadequate staff (36.5%)
Too heavy workload (30%)
Lack of recognition (14.9%)
Importantly, we should look at the specific challenges that lead to stress from feeling overwhelmed due to ‘Workload‘‘
Understaffing – 74.9%
Quantity of workload (# of tasks/cases) – 73.4%
Additional responsibilities – 59.0%
Uneven distribution of workload – 47.6%
Documentation – 29.1%
So we don’t have enough people! Not having enough people means more work is put on those current workers, who get burnt out and leave, which makes the staffing issue even worse, which leads to more stress!
See the obvious conundrum and vicious cycle that we are facing?
Cycle of Burnout
People get burned out, they leave, now labs are understaffed that leads to more burnout…the cycle continues.
Above is a lot of interesting data. The authors have drawn some additional conclusions in what’s causing the shortage of workers. But simply put, the main conclusions that I want to highlight are:
Not surprisingly, there is a significant association between feeling overwhelmed by workload and experiencing burnout. 77.8% of those who are moderately or very overwhelmed by workload were the ones currently experiencing burnout. (ref 4)
Understaffing was the most common reason (80.3% of respondents) for feeling overwhelmed, which leads to burnout. (ref 4)
Now that we know the core problems of burnout among our critical medical lab professionals, the question is how do we fix it in the short and the long term.
How do we fix the problem today?
As I see it, there are short and long term ideas that can help fix the burnout problem. My focus is on fixing the problem today, to ‘help’ alleviate the stress put on our med lab professionals.
Most immediately, I believe labs need to look to their technology as being one of the fastest ways to help. Traditional LIMS is something that has helped for years, but its just not enough now. Labs need something that will fit their specific situation. Their technology should be working for them, allowing workers to be free to do other, more important, work.
I believe customized software that is affordable is the way to go. And yes, I am biased, since that is exactly what Add Your Labs does. We provide affordable customized software that is built with each the individual lab in mind. Learn more here.
Fixing this problem is going to take many types of solutions across many different stakeholders. From universities to technology providers, a combination of technology- and people-drivers must contribute to helping our medical lab professionals overcome burnout! In the end, we must fix this problem. 70% of all medical decisions depend on it!