Using AI to Create Work Schedules Significantly Reduces Physician Burnout

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based scheduling significantly improves physician engagement and reduces burnout by creating fair and flexible schedules that support work-life balance — even during the COVID-19 pandemic — according to research being presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ ADVANCE 2022, the Anesthesiology Business Event.

Studies show half of all physicians experience burnout during their career, driven by factors including workload, job demands, work-life integration and schedule control and flexibility.

In the new study, the AI-based scheduling software granted more vacation days, reduced ungranted vacation days and provided flexibility and predictability, compared to the previous staff-created scheduling system, resulting in significantly improved engagement scores from anesthesiologists within six months. These scores reflect the physician’s level of engagement with the health care organization. The higher the engagement score, the better the relationship the physician has with the  organization, leading to enhanced patient care, improved patient safety, lower costs, improved efficiency, and greater physician satisfaction and retention.

“We implemented AI scheduling of anesthesiologists in 2018 to increase control and flexibility and quickly saw the benefits,” said Dhruv Choudhry, M.D., lead author of the study and anesthesiology resident at Ochsner Health in New Orleans. “On average, the scheduling allows our anesthesiologists to have one or two mornings and one or two afternoons off a month to allow for increased work-life balance so they are better able to attend events important to them.”

Six months after the department implemented the AI-scheduling system, the average engagement scores of 60 anesthesiologists increased from 3.3 to 4.2 out of 5 (based on a Press Ganey survey), one of the largest improvements in the Ochsner Health system.

The AI scheduling system has helped tremendously during COVID-19, Dr. Choudhry said. The anesthesiology department seamlessly created an efficient model to staff COVID intensive care units (ICUs) 24/7 within hours of creating a new ICU. The AI scheduling system created a fair allocation of physician ICU shifts, while considering current and ever-changing staffing responsibilities in the operating rooms. Physicians could request preferences for ICU work or operating room work, which greatly reduced anxiety for some staff. The physician engagement scores continue to hold steady during COVID-19 surges, he noted.

Under the previous system, staff members created the anesthesiologists’ schedule via an Excel spreadsheet. The staff-made schedule allowed for one or two variations after accounting for days-off requests, call schedules and fair implementation of early vs. late days.

“While the staff-created schedule took 60 hours to 75 hours per month, the AI system generates the schedule over a 14-hour period and essentially generates an unlimited number of combinations to deliver the best schedule option for the department,” said Dr. Choudhry. “Our physicians understand that a long day or week will be reciprocated in the future with a shorter day or week, which was not possible with the previous system.”

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