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Why EHRs are exacerbating today’s physician burnout epidemic

By Dr. Christopher Maiona

The problem of physician burnout is all over the news and has attained “crisis” proportions. According to the American Medical Association, roughly 50 percent of physicians have or are experiencing it.

Even more startling, 30 percent of practicing physicians say they wouldn’t choose a career in medicine if they could start over again. The mindset of future physicians isn’t much better. One in four final-year residents already regret going into medicine, despite being such a hot commodity in today’s job market.
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Recognizing a problem is the first step toward solving it, and thankfully, hospital executives have noticed this one. Many are taking a multi-pronged approach to improve their physicians’ experience, looking to tactics like improved communications, physician support services, and community-based efforts to reconnect physicians with their love of medicine – not only as an altruistic exercise, but for the sake of their business performance, the quality of patient care, and the overall vitality of the American healthcare system.

One critical component for improving the physician experience is more physician-friendly information technology (IT). As a practicing physician myself, I know how IT can impact care delivery, and currently it’s not for the better. On any given day, for every hour a physician spends directly interacting with a patient, they spend two hours on administrative tasks and electronic health record (EHR) data entry. Outside of healthcare, it’s unheard of for an industry to add technology and simultaneously reduce the productivity of its most precious human resource. Yet in healthcare we’ve managed to accomplish just that. Chained to their computers, physicians have limited time to do what they’ve actually trained to do – care for patients.

From clinical burden to clinical asset
Despite the best of intentions by technology developers, healthcare IT currently is a burden to physicians, who daily confront countless alerts, notifications, and displays of irrelevant information that hamper their ability to do their jobs efficiently. As a result, IT is a primary contributor to today’s physician burnout epidemic.

Rather than causing unwanted headaches, IT should be a valuable resource to help physicians be a little sharper and more efficient, and allow them to obtain a better understanding of patients as a whole. For example, as a hospitalist for over 20 years, the first thing I do in the morning is pre-round, which can easily take up to an hour. I’d welcome a computer system that streamlines pre-rounding by highlighting critical changes that occurred overnight and that helps me prioritize tasks for the day in an intelligent manner, and that is consistent with how I practice. I’d get on the floor sooner, and by the patient’s bedside earlier.

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