Physician Burnout Needs Healing and EHRs Can’t Do It

Abhinav Shashank
Fri 06 July 2018

Gone are the good old days of patient-physician banter and bonding. Nowadays, we often hear patients complaining about how their physician was too busy to even look at them. Interestingly, we all keep hearing stories about physician burnout every now and then, but have we succeeded in finding out a solution?

I came across the stories of two physicians who were dealing with similar challenges, but with different ways of handling the issues at hand. As one would imagine, the outcome was different too! For the sake of anonymity, let’s call them Jane Doe and John Doe.

What’s interesting to note is that both of them recognized that they were gradually slipping into burnout, and this wasn’t just affecting their professional spaces but also personal. There were clear-cut signs such as errors in judgment, lack of enthusiasm, and dropping clinical and care outcomes. However, their attitude towards their problems was poles apart. While Jane succumbed under the pressures of work, John took constructive steps to rebuild and renew the lost enthusiasm and efficiency at work.

55% of those practicing family and internal medicine say they feel burnt out. That number rises to 59% for those in emergency medicine.

If burnout is a disease, then how did it spread?

It’s incredibly important for physicians to identify the issue of burnout at the beginning stage to be able to nip it in the bud. It is only when the problem is recognized, appropriate steps can be taken to resolve it. Instead, most physicians end up nurturing it unknowingly. Both Jane and John knew very well about the growing sense of burning out, however, their different personalities brought forth different reactions from them.

Jane eventually slipped into depression and ultimately left the profession. Whereas, John raised his concern with decision-making authorities and helped establish physician engagement strategies in his hospital. Though the reactions and outcomes were contrasting, both these physicians had two things in commonㅡ one, the ‘broken’ system and second, the nature of the work itself.

It is unreasonable to expect all physicians to be resilient and put up a brave front in a tortuous and overburdening work environment. Instead, the US healthcare system has to initiate steps to make the work environment less toxic for physicians.

You may also like, Physician Burnout: Do we have a Cure for this Disease in Modern Healthcare?

Burnout takes place in every professional walk of life and is not restricted to physicians.

Technically, burnout is described as a state of chronic stress which culminates into physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Can you really expect the efficiency in work and quality of care that you desire from your physician while he’s going through all that?

Physician burnout is an extremely serious issue and one that needs to be resolved before it becomes an epidemic. Even though the rate of burnout is high in many professions, it exists without a huge increase in professionals changing their domain or field altogether. For healthcare, the case is reversed. Many are leaving the profession and in some cases, the situation is alarming.

Medical doctors are more likely to die from suicide than members of any other profession in the US, suggests new research presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

How physicians can stop themselves from burning out?

Time crunch, manual data entry, and preoccupation with administrative tasks are the most common problems faced by the physicians today. They need to be able to get more done in less amount of time. It would really help the cause of physicians to bring more automation in processes, instead of having to struggle to find information on their patients in front of a screen. Having all patient data and relevant insights in one place will serve as a boon for physicians in the healthcare space of today. I have made a checklist of things that a physician or physician staff may require, from the perspective of one. As a physician, I need to be able to:

  • Access the summaries of patient(s) expected to visit with least scrolling
  • Know the list of patients who are expected to visit and filter high-priority ones
  • Receive patient insights like measure gaps, coding gaps, among others  
  • Access and print the pre-visit summary with a single-click
  • Know the measure gaps and coding gaps of the patient
  • Know the utilization pattern of the patient
  • Relay information back to the payers to incorporate it in their future analysis
  • View my performance scorecard to monitor and improve performance in the value-based paradigm

You may also like, Why Are Physician Workflows in an Immediate Need for Change?

Will physician engagement really cure burnout?

The rate of physician burnout and suffering is so high that it’s raising red flags across the map of the US. The most ridiculous thing to ask at this stage would be, “Why should organizations care?,” after all, the situation is always under the control of the physician. Some people talk as if burning out is a choice.

The nurses, physician staff, care teams, and physicians themselves are important components of an organization. Organizations have to ensure that physicians are thoroughly engaged in order to ensure the betterment of the network and its patients. The two concepts physician engagement and physician burnout are intricately connected. The sooner the healthcare system understands and takes advantage of this fact, the less physician burnout surveys and statistics will be making prime time news on the television. It is most pertinent that physicians reach out to others and get themselves out of the rut. For this, the solution that has worked best so far, has been physician engagement.

To learn how to establish physician engagement across your network, get a demo.

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