How DevOps can improve burnout and communication in healthcare

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How DevOps can improve burnout and communication in healthcare

In healthcare details matter, and providing the services and support patients need means that zero quality compromise is key. As the pandemic has put a strain on most industries, those in healthcare may have had the heaviest burden. 

Regardless of speciality and size, operational inefficiencies and poor patient communication and service remain highly prevalent in medical practice today. These can lead to high rates of physician and administrative burnout as part of a stressful and busy career. This Spring the US Surgeon General issued an Advisory highlighting an "urgent need to address the health worker burnout crisis across the country" - coming after the UK government's own policy paper in response to the National Health Service and social care burnout. All of this highlights the need for medical practices to further adopt and utilise DevOps technology to free up practitioners to focus on what they do best: providing patient care.

Importance of getting communication right in healthcare 

In healthcare, communicating and engaging with patients is key to managing stressful times and conditions, and in ensuring a trusting and collaborative relationship. It's an industry that demands fast delivery with no compromises on quality, since miscommunication or delays can have real clinical, and sometimes devastating, consequences. 

One of the companies leading the way is Klara, a healthcare technology provider helping practitioners better engage with their patients. It offers solutions for healthcare providers to manage and improve patient communications, digitising the patient journey through the whole medical system, with automation and workflows for medical staff to follow. Valentin Ranshakov, Quality Assurance Lead at Klara leads a team running over 1,000 end-to-end (E2E) tests for every commit. His engineering team relies on CircleCI, the software delivery platform, to maintain confidence during complex tests and keep them up-to-date in changing environments. Without the right CI/CD Valentin believes the challenge of balancing development, maintaining functionality, and testing code at pace would be insurmountable. 

"We can't deliver our product and support the sales team while waiting for tests to run over hours and days. Understanding the links between development and productivity when working in a heavily regulated space helps us create realistic objectives, managing our developer work and not worrying about a problematic deployment," explains Valentin.

Taking a DevOps approach

The healthcare sector needs two things from the developer community to meet the systemic challenges it faces. The first is the right technology: Modernising applications and systems to a high state of availability, usability and interoperability. Both professionals and patients are still too often stuck with paperwork and manual processes designed for the telephone, not the internet age. The second is the mindset of problem solving and root cause analysis. This is how engineers improve the efficiency of their products and services, and such logical practices can scale up to improve the experience of whole industries.

Manual processes and the extreme paperwork that characterises aspects of the UK's NHS are antithetical to how the medical practices using Klara's tools operate in the USA. Software automates much communication, aiding the administrative and medical staff in keeping their time and attention focussed on the patient, and freeing them up to focus on solving the problems that matter, rather than working around work.

Tackling long waiting times and poor outcomes is vital to ensuring the long-term survival of the NHS. Continuing the recovery from the pandemic requires a process whereby staff are empowered to do their own root cause analysis and collaborate to improve the system, piece by piece. The skills that power the innovation of software development are built on creativity and problem solving, which can be encouraged at all levels and skill sets. Coupled with domain experience, finding solutions to challenges, both big and small, local and national, should be turned into an institutional exercise.

Taking the engineering mindset and applying that to the real-world operations of healthcare is a critical way for the technology sector to inspire change beyond its core value delivery. Continuous integration and continuous delivery needn't be solely terms for software engineers and developers. Practices and mindset that have transformed almost every business can be carefully applied to other sectors. Breaking down problems and using design-led thinking principles to plan, iterate, and test, enabling a tight feedback loop. Even setting an expectation that any team in the organisation is empowered to be agents of change can lead to wise suggestions and have a huge impact.