Burnout in the behavioral health field isn’t anything new—providers have always grappled with the emotional toll of dealing with trauma and mental illness. But a perfect storm of factors—including the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in mental health issues among young people, and the loneliness epidemic recently acknowledged by the Surgeon General—have skyrocketed the demand for mental and behavioral health services, with about half of providers reporting they are unable to meet that demand.
With unmanageable caseloads, grueling days of back-to-back appointments, growing documentation backlogs, and consistently high vacancy and turnover rates, the behavioral health burnout problem has reached a boiling point.
But, there is hope, with a host of innovative tools emerging to help douse the flames. Pioneering mental and behavioral health organizations are alleviating burnout with technology like Augmented Intelligence and CareOps Automation—turning to specialized AI platforms like Eleos to streamline cumbersome administrative tasks, scale clinical and professional development, and ultimately, create a more resilient and sustainable workforce.
Taking Stock: What’s Fueling Provider Burnout?
Today’s behavioral health providers aren’t just coping with the usual emotional demands of their roles; they’re also facing an ever-increasing multitude of systemic pressures. Let’s delve into some industry-wide challenges contributing to behavioral health burnout in 2023—and how technology is helping turn the tide.
Spiking Demand for Services and Heavy Administrative Workloads
The pandemic threw society a curveball of stress unprecedented in size and scope, leading to a surge in demand for mental health support. But while the pandemic crisis has (mostly) passed, the mental health crisis has not.
According to the American Psychological Association, almost three-quarters of psychologists had longer waitlists in 2022 than they did before the pandemic. The spike in demand for behavioral healthcare—and the resulting increase in paperwork—is spreading providers thin and keeping them from effectively doing what they got into the profession to do: deliver high-quality care to their clients.
Impact: Heavy caseloads and outsized administrative demands are both known contributors to provider burnout.
Solution: AI can help tackle some of the most tedious and time-consuming operational tasks saddling behavioral health providers. An AI tool that automates required documentation, for example, frees up significant time that would otherwise be spent on paperwork.
Poor Work-Life Balance
Behavioral health work often requires long, irregular hours, making it tough for providers to maintain any semblance of work-life balance. The boundaries between professional and personal worlds often blur, leading many providers to feel like they’re always “on the clock.” Administrative work, in particular, often bleeds into providers’ after-work hours (the dreaded so-called “pajama time”). This continual strain significantly raises the risk of provider burnout, ultimately diminishing the quality of care they can provide.
Impact: According to one study on therapist burnout, “weekly working hours and work-life balance were significant predictors of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.”
Solution: AI technology offers a promising pathway to better work-life balance. By automating tasks like documentation, AI allows providers to complete their work more efficiently, giving them more time for self-care, personal activities, and family life.
The mental health field can be rewarding in many ways, but providers often are not adequately compensated for their time and expertise. While LMFTs, counselors, and social workers average around $60,000 a year, their peers in occupational and speech therapy earn closer to $90,000. Same level of education—significantly different compensation. Financial strain adds another layer of stress to an already demanding job. When therapists have to worry about making ends meet, their focus can drift from providing quality care to providing for themselves and their families.
Impact: A study found that therapist financial strain was associated with greater turnover rates.
Solution: By automating mundane—yet essential—tasks like documentation, clinicians can allocate more time and focus to direct care, enhancing both job satisfaction and the organization’s financial health. Faster, better documentation leads to a cleaner, more efficient revenue cycle—thanks to enhanced timely filing, improved claim acceptance, and reduced denials and clawbacks.
With lower overhead and more reliable cash flow, organizations put themselves in a stronger position to offer competitive salaries. This, in turn, tackles one of the root causes of provider burnout, allowing behavioral health professionals to redirect their focus from financial survival back to quality care.
Lack of Professional Development and Meaningful Feedback
The educational journey of a behavioral health provider doesn’t end with obtaining a degree or certification; it’s a lifelong commitment to learning. However, without adequate support for skill development and mentorship, many clinicians find themselves hitting a wall—feeling either stagnant in their professional growth or too overwhelmed by day-to-day demands to focus on anything but the next appointment on their schedule. The lack of structured feedback and growth opportunities can be a huge source of burnout, leaving providers feeling stuck and unmotivated.
Impact: A 2009 study underscores the critical role of supervisor support in reducing therapist burnout, revealing that perceived support from leaders is closely linked to lower levels of burnout and higher levels of therapeutic self-efficacy.
Furthermore, these tools help supervisors and mentors quickly identify areas where additional support or training may be beneficial. By facilitating more targeted and effective professional guidance, Augmented Intelligence helps foster a culture of continuous learning and development, mitigating one of the lesser-recognized, yet critical, contributors to clinician burnout.
The hurdles that mental health providers face are complex and far-reaching, from unmanageable client demand and mountains of paperwork to low pay and lack of mentorship. These issues are devastating at the individual level, but when you step back and look at the full picture of their impact at the organizational and industry level, the situation becomes even more dire.
How it All Adds Up: What is the Toll of Provider Burnout to Behavioral Health Organizations?
Provider burnout isn’t just a crisis at the individual level; it reverberates throughout entire organizations, influencing everything from staff retention to care quality. To truly understand the gravity of the issue, it’s crucial to look at how burnout manifests not only within individual providers, but also within the organizations that employ them.
Provider Shortages and Chronic Understaffing
Insufficient staffing in behavioral health organizations creates a snowball effect of challenges. Lack of personnel not only raises stress levels for existing team members who must stretch even thinner to cover appointment schedules, but also leaves little room for them to establish nurturing, supportive relationships with colleagues. These relationships act as a vital shield against burnout, offering employees an emotional support network and a level of shared understanding that can’t be easily replicated.
No organization can thrive when job satisfaction is low, but this is especially true for mental health organizations that require a reliable, skilled workforce to fulfill their mission.
Impact: Research shows that coworker and supervisor social support in human service workplaces not only elevates the quality of treatment provided to clients, but also serves as a protective shield against burnout symptoms.
Solution: By taking on tedious administrative tasks, AI frees up time for providers to invest in peer relationships, fostering a work environment that is more resistant to burnout. Streamlining administrative burdens to focus on staff well-being is key to retaining the dedicated workforce that is essential to an organization’s success.
Fierce Competition for Top Talent
As noted above, the behavioral health field is already facing significant provider shortages. When burnout forces a professional to step back from—or even leave—their role, it creates an immediate staffing gap. This puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the staff, and with the competitive hiring market making it difficult to fill open positions in a timely manner, the negative downstream effects become even more intense.
Impact: Provider churn due to burnout amplifies existing staffing challenges, making it even more difficult to find qualified professionals in a fiercely competitive market. After all, candidates are less inclined to accept a role in an organization that’s severely understaffed, and burned-out former employees’ negative online reviews can put off potential candidates.
Solution: By leveraging AI tools to help reduce burnout, organizations can not only increase retention of their existing staff, but also make themselves more attractive to top talent. These technologies signal that the organization is invested in provider well-being and career development, making it a more appealing workplace.
Erosion of Organizational Excellence
Provider burnout isn’t just a staffing crisis—it’s an organizational crisis that compromises the very essence of what the institution aims to achieve, impacting everything from provider satisfaction and brand reputation to client experience and care quality.
Impact: An organization genuinely committed to excellence must recognize burnout as a systemic issue with far-reaching implications. Burnout and high turnover rates lead to a lack of care continuity for clients, impacting outcomes across the board.
Solution: Implementing comprehensive support systems can stem the tide of this erosive process. By streamlining administrative responsibilities and enhancing the overall work experience for clinicians, AI tools empower staff to perform at their best. This fosters an organizational culture of excellence, helping to maintain the high standard of care that sets top-tier behavioral health orgs apart from the rest.
Eleos Health: Attacking Provider Burnout and Workforce Issues at the Source
Burnout is a multifaceted problem requiring a comprehensive solution. The Eleos platform offers a host of features and tools designed to drive impact from multiple angles, starting at the root: freeing providers to focus on their most important work (a.k.a. caring for their clients).
Documentation Automation: Streamline Administrative Tasks
Administrative work, especially documentation, often consumes a disproportionate amount of a provider’s time, eventually leading to burnout. Eleos helps reduce this work with:
- AI-Powered Session Summaries: Transforms unstructured session data into structured summaries, allowing clinicians to conveniently review the substance of each session.
- Automated Note-Taking: Further streamlines documentation by automating the note-taking process during the session, providing accurate, comprehensive “building blocks” providers can select from and edit to build their note.
- Integrated Workflow: Enhances workflow efficiency by seamlessly embedding within existing electronic health records (EHR) systems, eliminating the need to toggle between systems.
By embracing Eleos Health’s documentation automation capabilities, clinicians can reclaim precious hours, focusing more on patient care and less on paperwork—thereby lowering their risk of burnout.
Session Intelligence: Elevate Care Quality
Poor session engagement and lack of real-time insights can put additional strain on the quality of care. Furthermore, effective supervision is often hampered by a lack of specific, actionable treatment data at the individual provider level. Eleos addresses these concerns with:
- Clinical Insights: Offers comprehensive care insights like talk-versus-listen ratios, client engagement, and application of therapeutic techniques, enabling clinicians to make more informed care decisions and enhance evidence-based care delivery.
- Supervisory Support: Detailed session intelligence allows supervisors to gain clear visibility into provider performance, enabling more informed and targeted professional development opportunities.
- Leadership Reporting: Equips supervisors and leaders with a comprehensive, in-depth view of overall staff activity. In addition to providing insight into key population health metrics and trends, this type of reporting highlights areas for improvement across the entire organization.
Through rich data insights, Eleos not only improves care quality but also strengthens the supervisory process, equipping leaders to address workplace issues at scale—before they give way to provider burnout.
Compliance Automation: Help Ensure Note Quality and Regulatory Adherence
Ensuring regulatory compliance can be a burden for clinicians who’d rather focus on client care—but a strong compliance foundation is essential to the stability and success of your organization. Eleos supports organization-wide compliance with:
- Care Team Collaboration: Facilitates information-sharing among care team members and supports timely updates to client records, enhancing coordinated care delivery.
- Compliance Overview: Offers organization-level visibility into things like time to complete and submit notes, allowing leaders to identify potential compliance issues before they result in delayed or denied payments.
- Standardized Assessments: Integrates standardized scales like PHQ-7 and GAD-9 for comprehensive evaluations, supporting evidence-based practice.
- Baked-in Documentation Compliance: Generates defensible, clinically relevant notes that are totally unique to each session using AI models that were built with compliance in mind. Plus, with Eleos, about 90% of notes are submitted within 24 hours of the session.
- Population Health Monitoring: Provides key metrics and trends for overall care outcomes, supporting strategic planning as well as adherence to various program requirements (e.g., CCBHC criteria).
By centralizing these features into specialized categories, Eleos not only improves the quality of care but also proactively mitigates the risks and realities of clinician burnout.
Burnout has always been a problem in behavioral health, affecting both the quality of care and the well-being of providers. But as we edge further into the 21st century, technologies like Eleos offer a ray of hope. With its suite of AI-powered features, Eleos doesn’t just alleviate the symptoms of burnout; it addresses burnout at the source by freeing clinicians to focus on what they do best: providing compassionate, effective care. As we integrate these innovative, intelligent tools into our practices, we’re not just changing workflows; we’re transforming the future landscape of behavioral healthcare.
If you’re a leader in the behavioral health sector who is ready to do something about clinician burnout, the time for action is now. Don’t let your providers reach their breaking point; proactively elevate your standard of care and operational efficiency before it’s too late.