Physician Burnout: Do we have a Cure for this Disease in Modern Healthcare?

Abhinav Shashank
Tue 05 Dec 2017
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People become physicians out of the commitment to spend time with patients and not with computers. Their aim is to cure lives and stay connected with patients, but that ideology is getting lost as more and more non-healthcare burdens are increasing on them. Care teams are labouring their hours away on Excel sheets, which is not certainly not among the best practices in healthcare.

Physician burnout is a chronic condition that is crippling the healthcare system in the U.S. from within. The sooner it is tackled, the easier it will be for the stakeholders to control the skyrocketing healthcare costs. Why? Because the price of physician burnout is not something that the physician pays alone; it affects the patients and dampens the quality of care for the entire care facility. It can lead to hospitals incurring huge costs and even administrative failure.

Physician burnout is a systemic problem

It cannot be stressed enough that physician burnout is a current issue in healthcare and is in dire need of attention. More often than not, physicians, today feel like cogs in a wheel. They work day in and day out on bureaucratic tasks and involuntarily spend too many hours at work.

The current state of health care shows higher rates of physician burnout, as compared to the general population.

Going by statistics, an estimated 30% to 40% of physicians in the U.S. experience burnout.

The leading cause of this burnout could be excessive workloads. Burnout is not just bad for our physicians, it is bad for patients, and it is bad for the country as a whole. Hospitals and health systems lose millions because of overly occupied physicians working beyond maximum capacity and still facing a decline in productivity.

What should the physician focus on? A zillion administrative guidelines or curing the sick? And when that dilemma occurs, there is always a trade-off somewhere; it can be quality, cost, experience or a mix of everything!

Numerous factors contribute to physician burnout. Major ones being:

  • Increasing administrative burdens
  • Dealing with frequent amendments in payment models without effective change management
  • Enormous requirement of data handling capabilities with most of it being done manually
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of time and resources to deal with the increasing responsibilities
  • Reduced satisfaction levels with more and more time being spent on non-care operations

It is a fact that every hour of a physician’s time spent with patients means an additional two hours of data entry into EHRs and documentation.

Its impact

The list of problems can go on and on, however, the major ones that we cannot overlook would be disruptive behavior, increased chances of medical errors, and lower patient satisfaction scores. Not only does it negatively impact the care process, but more importantly, puts patients at risk. Lowered efficiency and lack of self-satisfaction move physicians to quit their job leading to recruitment costs.

Researchers say that burnout erodes job performance and increases medical errors. And in 2017, it has been declared a public health crisis.

Why change and what needs changing?

The growing use of the term ‘physician burnout’ in healthcare leads us to the assumption that- either there is an increased awareness about the issue or it really is a widespread problem among the physicians. Anything that is getting in the way of physicians-patient relationship needs to go away. Be it clerical, systemic, or environmental.

Many suggest that restructuring of health care has led to an increase in physician burnout. Mandates wherein only doctors are allowed to perform a non-care operation, for instance, updating the details of a flu shot. There should be a way around it, as primary care physicians spend more than half of their 11.4-hour workday performing data entry and other tasks, according to a study.

Could it be that health reforms combined with the mandatory use of EHRs have led to the higher incidence of physician burnout? EHRs can certainly be termed as drivers of the cause but, even the mandation of quality metrics in a value-based care health system have added to physicians’ administrative burdens.

How can we reduce physician burnout?

Before we address the solutions to physician burnout, we need to understand that, this is not because of one problem, but a combination of many! It is not just a physical stress problem, it is mental and emotional too. It is a multi dimensional problem and therefore we have to be diverse and innovative if we are going to deal with it.

Proper change management: With the ever-evolving payment models in healthcare, there is a major requirement for the entire care team to be aware about every minute change that happens in the space. Awareness sessions, regular meets, mission sharing with the team, and consistent focus on a common goal are must for a smooth change management.

Easing off administrative burdens: When almost every industry is leveraging technology, healthcare should not slack off here. The added burden on physicians to report on quality metrics could be easily curbed by incorporating technology. Going from manual to automated is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to eliminating tedious work in day-to-day life.

Automated workflows with push alerts: In the same way, automated flows for physicians will help them work efficiently and reduce errors when they do not have to fill in their schedules and patient details manually. Physicians could use detailed notifications and alerts on their preferred device, so they do not waste time in attending to non-clinical duties. Alerts about appointments will also save physician’s time during work hours. They can also be notified about the small things that require their attention instead of manually fishing out what needs their attention!

Creating time and resource balance: Most of the physicians’ time should go into physician-patient interaction and for that to happen, they need to have resources. Physicians cannot perform two jobs at a time, therefore to save their time, they should be able to rely on someone else to take care of non-care operations for them.

Connected care teams: Through data-driven care management, physicians will work in an environment that is well-coordinated and efficient. The entire care team will be updated on every aspect of each patient’s care. Moreover, they can deliver dynamic care plans to patients and not worry about modifying it after every care procedure.

Relieving physicians of emotional, mental, & physical stress:  Everyone delivers their best when they are in their most comfort. After working for long hours, they can definitely use a break to wear off the stress. This will not only refresh them, but also exponentially increase productivity. Giving extra time-offs as rewards can be one way of doing it.

Intuitive and intelligent technology instead of conventional methods: This is perhaps the most significant way in which health IT could save physicians tons of effort in manually feeding data into their systems. Interoperability, achieved through data integration will improve the productivity of physicians and thus, reduce burnout.

As healthcare evolves, we need to keep in mind that there are many opportunities we have to grab through the best possible means. The revolutionary step to traversing into a value-based ecosystem requires us to be smart and innovative. Conventional ways to deliver care have become a thing of the past. Today is the time to empower our physicians with technology so powerful that lets physicians be physicians and not data-entry executives.

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Tags: Accountable Care, Healthcare, Physician Engagement
Abhinav Shashank
Physician Burnout: Do we have a Cure for this Disease in Modern Healthcare?

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