Administrative burden is among the top three challenges of care providers, according to a 2017 AMA study in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin. This difficulty has the potential to rapidly accelerate physician burnout. Not only that, but administrative burden on physicians reduces the amount of time physicians spend with their patients. In fact, more than half of a primary care physician’s day consists of EHR and administrative tasks, whereas just barely more than a quarter of their time actually with their patients. Even when they’re in the exam room, physicians spend more than a third of their time inputting data. Not only do physicians have an abnormally long workday, but their workday is generally spent performing tedious tasks, even after hours. Among other factors, this burden contributes to the statistic that between 20.9% and 43.2% of physicians report depressive symptoms that get progressively worse as the physician’s seniority advances.
Physician burnout is defined as “long-term stress reaction characterized by depersonalization, including cynical or negative attitudes toward patients, emotional exhaustion, a feeling of decreased personal achievement and a lack of empathy for patients”. It’s associated with feelings of hopelessness and depersonalization, an increase in physician errors, and depletion of physicians’ empathy. These factors undoubtedly produce a lower-quality patient experience, and thus decreases the quality of the care organizations that employ these physicians.
Physician burnout leads to discontent in work environments, and it’s no surprise that that, in turn, leads to turnover. Not only is it unfortunate for the physicians themselves, it’s also extremely costly. Burnout-related turnover costs total to a staggering $17 billion per year across the US. Because of these factors, it’s undeniably necessary to address the issue and work toward reducing physician burnout. Here are some of our ideas about what your organization can do to reduce this administrative burden and avoid a decline in your organization’s overall quality.
3. Create a Physician Wellness Committee: Implement a committee to periodically monitor burnout and to think of solutions to reduce it. This would be best done by taking physicians from various departments as committee members and having each of them monitor their own department using wellness surveys, or something comparable. By having physicians lead these groups, the pain points and concerns of physicians are almost guaranteed to be addressed. With no middle man, physicians can speak freely among themselves and then implement change in collaboration with administrative staff based on the concerns that arise within the committee.
2. Provide and Be Receptive to Feedback: Feedback is an essential part of any career as a measure of professional performance. Giving physicians feedback is no different: an environment of support and positive reinforcement can help physicians resist becoming discouraged and can help to put administrative frustration into perspective. It also shows the physician that empathetic care is valued and that they are not alone in their dissatisfactions. Similarly, taking time to listen to concerns of physicians sends a message that your organization cares about its employees. Welcoming feedback also allows physicians a place to vent about their frustrations, hear the annoyances of their peers, and knowing that they are not alone. This can help ameliorate not only burnout, but also the associated adverse effects on mental health.
1. Enlist outside help to make data entry and use easier: There’s more than one ways to make your EHR work for you, but one of the most effective is to get help from external health information technology vendors. The data used in the vast majority of healthcare organizations is imperfect and incomplete – around 30% of physicians don’t trust outside data even if it is provided, 62% of providers don’t even use data from outside sources, simply because their EHR/EMR workflow doesn’t accommodate for them to. The pressure of making a life-or-death decision with flawed information makes giving care a high-risk situation that demands a lot intellectually and emotionally from the physician. Rather than leaving out patient data because it comes from an external EHR/EMR vendor, use clinical standardization to synthesize data from disparate systems into one central record. HealthTerm does this by reliably mapping up to 76% of health data on the first hit. 10% of data will yield “garbage codes,” leaving only 14% of codes that require human intervention and interpretation. By doing this, physicians will no longer need to spend 51% of their time interacting with an EHR and can spend more time with their patients, developing relationships and preserving emotional energy.By enlisting HealthTerm, a terminology service, physician resentment toward EHR/EMR systems could very well be reduced. There should be a long-term goal to reduce and prevent organizational malfunctions to appropriately address physician burnout, and one way to do that is increase efficiency and use of EHRs/EMRs by focusing on data availability and usability.
Physician burnout is a real thing, and by negatively impacting the empathy of physicians, it’s taking a toll on care quality. As a healthcare organization, you have an obligation both to your patients and your physicians to alleviate this issue as much as you can to ensure the highest quality of care possible. By creating a wellness committee to monitor the mental health of physicians, giving and receiving feedback, and taking advantage of innovative solutions that can improve the performance of your EHR/EMR, your organization can take big steps toward easing the effect of physician burnout.