The rise of technology-driven physician burnout

physician-burnout

It used to be such a simple life — a small, independent primary care practice (SIP) in the suburbs with a loyal patient following and the flexibility that comes with running one’s own business.

Plenty of time to spend with patients, and needing only the basics for record-keeping and prescribing. Then things started to change. Requirements evolved. And, for many, the lure of becoming part of a larger provider network was too great.

Fast forward to the shocking reality of the clinical recording keeping requirements of the modern healthcare provider network. In the current environment physicians are 15 times more likely to experience burnout than any other white-collar profession; and anywhere between 45 to 54 percent of physicians in larger hospital networks and large practices are reporting some evidence of burnout.

EHR-related issues

While technology in general is a trigger for burnout, stress specifically related to Electronic Health Record (EHR) compliance requirements (by provider networks or the government) tend to be orders of magnitude higher than other clinical stressors.

The reason this stress has increased is because of an extreme sensitivity to the effect of technology on clinical workflow. How much time has data entry, screen views, and medical device manipulation taken away from high-quality, personalized patient engagement?

Issues related to work-life balance also need to be factored into the equation, as more and more physicians need to enter data at home after work hours. This in a profession already notorious for the excessive pressures in can have on family life.

Under the best of circumstances, clinicians and administrative staff have a beef with their EHR platforms. But that stress is compounded with each migration to a new platform, the common result of frequent healthcare provider mergers.

Those in enterprise IT know the massive effect a basic email system migration can have on employee anxiety levels. It should come as no surprise, then, that even the slightest change in an EHR system can make clinical care more difficult. For instance, consider the stress to nurses and physicians of struggling to get instantaneous, interoperable records of an infant going through a crisis in a neonatal unit.

Reducing physician burnout

This problem is not likely to decrease in the short term, so the question is: How can we mitigate physician burnout in the current environment?

In every provider focus group I conduct, the number one demand is to bring the clinician in at the earliest stages of product research and deployment. Most important is to include non-technical clinicians as they are typically on the front lines of EHR or medical device usage and can best identify the workflow implications. Clinicians are obsessed with reducing the number of clicks and page views required to get to the desired data — let them beta test the systems as a burnout prevention strategy.

Thankfully, vendors are no longer taking physician burnout lightly in their product development efforts. One well known vendor has added an artificial intelligence algorithm to their platform to analyze where there are gaps that need to be filled in patient records to preclude the frustration at the point of care.

Finally, top-down burnout counseling is less effective than peer-to-peer groups. This is especially important in the context of how digital natives and digital immigrants relate to the technology. Convening generation-compatible clinicians that have found simple work-arounds to cumbersome tasks can add to the efficacy of the stress reduction process and develop mentoring bonds within the organization.

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