Report finds that medication management safety concerns is contributing to provider burnout

A new report from Stericycle, a medical waste management company, found that widespread provider and frontline burnout threatens both providers’ and patients’ safety. The report surveyed 500 healthcare professionals — 150 administrators and 350 clinicians. Five takeaways emerged from the study regarding the health of patients, providers, the community, and the environment.

Burnout contributes to The Great Resignation

Into calendar year three of the Covid-19 pandemic, 7 out of 10 providers are stressed and burned out, while 71% reported feeling that Covid-19 threatened their safety in the workplace. Only 1 in 20 providers see themselves as heroic, according to the report, in contrast to views at the start of the pandemic. Further, only 1 in 5 providers feel appreciated, the report found. Failure to act could cause more workers to leave their positions and exacerbate the current provider shortage and The Great Resignation, according to the report.

“There are many factors impacting healthcare provider burnout, and certainly, some are more acute than others. While healthcare organizations may not be able to control Covid-19 case fluctuations or supply chain shortages, waste management is something that can be controlled and implemented to safeguard their staff,” said Cory White, chief commercial officer,Stericycle in an email. “In fact, our report found that 93% of providers believe medical waste is an integral element to the day-to-day function of their medical practices and is foundational to maintaining a safe and effective workplace. At a time when 3 in 4 providers indicate their sense of safety in the workplace has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, this is something to be aware of and to act on.”

Effective waste management a must

The report found nine out of 10 providers and eight out of 10 administrators view medical waste management as key to offering the best patient care possible. Both groups indicated that improper waste management contributed to the burnout and fatigue that is already exacerbated by the pandemic.  More than half of providers and administrators indicated a desire for their organizations to increase funding and labor for proper biohazardous waste disposal.

“Medical waste management plays a critical role in everything a healthcare provider does; it is part of the ‘backdrop’ of their everyday work,” White noted. “When it’s done poorly, waste management can be time-consuming, confusing, distracting and most importantly, unsafe. Proper waste management, on the other hand, makes providers feel safer and more efficient, so they can focus on what matters most: caring for patients.”

Push for environmentally friendly options

More than 94% of providers and 95% of administrators surveyed said they agree that inappropriate biohazardous waste disposal detrimentally affects the environment. However, only 51% of providers said their organization shared sustainability goals. In contrast, 71% of administrators reported they had stated such goals, according to the report. As well, the report found another disconnect between the two groups: only 54% of providers felt their organization is doing enough to mitigate environmental impacts via appropriate biohazardous waste management while 75% of providers thought so. Despite their differing reports, both feel more needs to be done to support sustainability efforts, according to the report.

Safety issues facing at-home care

Increasingly care is being delivered outside of traditional care settings. In particular, more patients are receiving care in their home, with more than 90% of providers stating they offer care beyond traditional care environments, the report said. Despite the increased shift to home care, 85% of providers reported difficulty with properly disposing of biohazardous waste in at-home care settings, the report said. Further, 26% of providers offering care in at-home settings reported they were unclear on how to properly dispose of biohazardous waste safely in such settings. The report attributed this to several factors: lack of logistical support, inadequate tools and regulations, missing infrastructure, and lack of training.

Additionally, the report explored providers’ and administrations’ views of patients’ disposal of medical waste in at-home settings. Of note, less than half of both groups felt patients had the resources and tools to dispose of waste properly and safely, according to the report.

Pharmaceutical waste impacting the opioid crisis

A majority of providers and administrators (56% and 60%, respectively) said the improper disposal of pharmaceuticals impacted the opioid crisis, according to the report. As well, 72% of providers and 73% of administrators indicated that Covid-19 has negatively impacted proper pharmaceutical management, the report said. Both groups reported concern with pharmaceutical management in at-home care settings, citing additional concerns of medications getting into the wrong hands.

“Our report found that medical waste is also an issue for at-home care patients and providers. Healthcare organizations can offer or direct patients to sharps mail-back disposal options to help avoid a public safety hazard and the risk of needlestick injuries,” White said. “Organizations should also consider sharing details about consumer drug takeback programs, such as kiosks or mail back envelopes, that provide patients with a better way to dispose of unused medications.”

Report recommendations

The report recommends several steps including utilizing proper medical waste management solutions to lessen the burden on providers and to provide a safer care environment. Second, the report encourages companies to implement environmentally friendly waste solutions. Third, the report recommends ensuring proper access to safe medical waste management for patients and providers in home-care settings, such as sharps mail back options. Finally, the report encourages healthcare organizations to develop proper pharmaceutical waste disposal solutions, such as drug take back programs.

Photo: TarikVision, Getty Images; Graphs: Stericycle report

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