Nurses speak with doctor looking at digital tablet

How will you respond to clinicians sounding the alarm on unsustainable care delivery models?

In the EY Global Voices in Health Care Study, clinicians call for models that put patients first without sacrificing quality of life.

In brief

  • Patient safety and lack of autonomy are top reasons cited by clinicians as to why they would leave medicine, according to EY interviews.
  • Health systems should help ensure frontline clinicians gain actionable insights from the patient data they collect throughout the day, to improve outcomes.
  • By advancing digitally-enabled hybrid care models, firms can expand preventative care and prioritize time between clinician and patient, providing more autonomy.

Care delivery models of today rest on the idea that clinicians will continue to work as they have for generations — for long hours, often on call and unpaid for their documentation and for training new physicians and nurses. Meanwhile, health care workers have been raised on the idea that work-life balance is important. Often mission-driven, they want to see better outcomes and experience for their patients, and for themselves.

To better understand the drivers of health care workforce shortages, uncover leading practices and hear from frontline clinicians, EY teams conducted more than 100 in-depth interviews in 11 countries with health system executives and clinicians. The clinicians were health care workers who had daily responsibilities to care for patients, including physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health workers.

The clinicians interviewed for the EY Global Voices in Health Care Study 2023 (pdf) identified in detail the top factors causing them to consider leaving the profession: lack of autonomy or control (cited in 42% of responses), burden (38%) and moral injury and concerns about patient safety (27%). 

A disconnect between clinician and health system perspectives

As they were confronting a crush of extremely ill patients, financial challenges and skyrocketing labor costs, health system executives tended to focus on pay in their response to the shortages (39% cited this approach), making sure clinicians were practicing at the top of what their license enabled (33%), providing education pipeline initiatives (33%) and wellness benefits (22%).

Some clinicians said in interviews they appreciated the increased focus on mindfulness and mental health, but when asked how the health system needs to change in the future, the top changes cited were: more preventative care, better staffing ratios and better flexibility.

Clinicians in several countries shared stories of not being able to get the care they believed their patients needed, and then seeing them cycle through the health system ineffectively, without addressing the root cause of disease or preventing crisis.

How a closer look at their policies allowed one health system to prioritize nurses' time with patients

Looking to free up time for overwhelmed nurses during the pandemic, leaders at University Hospitals in Cleveland invited 50 frontline nurses and nurse managers for a brainstorming session. Peter Pronovost, Chief Quality and Transformation Officer for University Hospitals, said the group explored what work they could stop doing and what work technology could eliminate through automation. They also looked at tasks that could be outsourced, such as having an admission nurse who focuses only on admissions, working remotely. The last question they pursued was: “What work is sacred and needs to remain at the bedside in person?”

“We asked our nurses for policies where the burden exceeds the benefit. And then we looked at how many times it happens, how many minutes it takes... We changed probably around 70 policies. But what we found is those policies are embedded in 2,000 order sets,” Dr. Pronovost said. Through this exercise, the health system was able to free up an estimated 30% of nurses’ time to focus on patients. The health system also is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the US to reduce burdensome policies.

Similarly, the team found that nurses were spending 24% of their time hunting for supplies during their shift. The health system introduced an app that enabled nurses to search for the most common assets they use. “And it instantly says where the nearest one is. So it's huge that the time it took a nurse looking for supplies went from 32 minutes to two.”

Digital transformation will play a huge role in solving the problem, but the clinician voice is critical

Health organizations can seize on digital transformation to clear the obstacles from clinicians’ days.


“Digital is seen as a cost center, not a value center,” said Rachel Dunscombe, CEO of OpenEHR, who has worked extensively in creating digital clinical programs for England’s National Health Service (NHS) and elsewhere. “We really need to reframe it as being the operating model that allows more productivity while keeping our clinicians a lot happier in the work.” 


In interviews with EY professionals, clinicians say they see value in some digital tools that have been introduced, especially in voice dictation software and tools that allow them to view images, scans or medical records remotely. However, they disliked siloed apps and platforms that require them to log in multiple times per patient and they asked for better surfacing of the information they need from the Electronic Health Record (EHR). Still wary and beaten down by EHRs that have them lost in click boxes, clinicians were more skeptical about the role of technology in changing the care delivery model than executives. 


The costs of not pursuing digital strategies that will help attract and retain clinicians is high as well, as the price tag to replace a physician who leaves due to burnout is estimated at US$500,000 to US$1 million per doctor once recruitment, sign-on bonuses, lost billings and onboarding costs are factored in.1


Dunscombe says health systems need to familiarize clinicians with the technology and free them to create the experience that is right for them. Another challenge to unleashing the power of health data is “the lack of tooling for the clinicians to actually interrogate the data,” she said. “One of the most powerful things we can do is allow the clinicians to understand the population.”


None of the clinicians interviewed by EY teams said they had access to analytic insights on their patients. Clinicians even expressed frustration with swimming in too much data at times, not being able to find what they need. In fact, a recent report by The World Bank estimated that some countries use less than 5% of health care data to improve health.2

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    Health organizations must advance toward digitally-enabled hybrid care models to address continuing workforce challenges

    Newer models that seamlessly integrate remote and in-patient care can help relieve care demand, expand preventative care and improve the patient and clinician experience. Data insights can help identify the appropriate time, site and mode of care for patients. More effective virtual triage options and virtual primary care can help reduce the burden, while smart remote patient monitoring devices and apps can enable exception-based interventions and help create more consistent touch points with patients.


    Six key actions will help health executives move toward digitally-enabled hybrid care models:

    1. Prioritize time between clinician and patient.
      Health systems should build in more autonomy for the clinician to manage their patient panels and strengthen relationships with patients.
    2. Activate the data that clinicians are collecting.
      Throughout the day clinicians collect data about their patient population. By equipping them with actionable insights from that data, they can better improve outcomes and experience.
    3. Develop more precise and consumer-friendly communication strategies.
      When patients are waiting for test results or appointments, anxiety can build. Communication strategies can help assuage those worries and keep them connected to the health organization in hybrid care models.
    4. Educate the public about what quality care looks like and their role in it.
      Many may still cling to the idea that quality care occurs only in the hospital, through instant access to specialists. How can health organizations help the public understand what high-quality care in hybrid care models looks like? Clinicians also indicated more needs to be done to stop abuse of health care workers by patients and to build trust.
    5. Collect real-time feedback from employees.
      Health organizations need better understanding about what’s working for employees in the moment so they can drop what’s not working and remove burdensome policies or benefits that are not adding value for employees.
    6. Focus talent strategies on supporting the move toward new digitally-enabled care models.
      As health systems shift care to preventative models and toward the home, HR will need to be ready for the new roles that will be necessary to carry care through to the home, such as consumer health techs to connect home health devices. Health systems will also need to work with governments and education systems to enhance digital clinical worker skill sets and pipeline.

    Special thanks to the following individuals who contributed greatly to the EY Global Voices in Health Care Study 2023: Crystal Yednak, EY Global Health Senior Analyst; Aakanksha Kaul, EY Health Sciences and Wellness Analyst; and Risha Saxena, EY Health Sciences and Wellness Analyst

    EY Global Voices in Health Care Study 2023

    Clinicians are calling for care delivery models allowing them to put patients first without sacrificing quality of life.


    The key priority arising from the EY Global Voices in Health Care Study 2023 is advancement toward digitally-enabled hybrid care models. Health organizations must embrace new care delivery models to address continuing workforce challenges. Hybrid care models seamlessly integrate remote and in-patient care to relieve care demand, expand preventative care and improve patient and clinician experiences.

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    Related article

    How to give health consumers the access and experience they value most

    The EY Global Consumer Health Survey 2023 findings suggest health executives should focus on access to care, cost and experience factors. Learn more.