Empowering Physicians to Reduce Burnout with Digital Health

Sep 19, 2019 | Digital Innovation

Physician burnout in the U.S. has become so widespread that the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health deemed it a public health crisis. With ever-soaring administrative tasks taking hold, many physicians and care providers are feeling stretched too thin. And while there is more and more for doctors to do, the quality of patient care is declining. To curb the prevalence of burnout, organizations should supplement the EHR with digital health technologies.

What is Physician Burnout?

Physician burnout is “a condition in which physicians lose satisfaction and a sense of efficacy in their work.” In addition to feeling exhausted and unfulfilled by many routine tasks, physicians also feel they’re not providing the level of care they see as their moral obligation. In turn, providers’ mental health is the primary impact of physician burnout. As a result, our health system can’t function at its best.

In addition to physicians, patients also experience negative impacts from physician burnout. There is a surplus of evidence that physician burnout results in more expensive healthcare and less satisfied patients. As a result, “there is moderate evidence that burnout is associated with safety-related quality of care” according to a research review in the BMJ from 2017. 

Physician Burnout & the EHR

It’s not uncommon for doctors to spend half their day or more clicking pulldown menus and typing rather than interacting with patients. Hence, many doctors deem the EHR as the single biggest pain point in their daily practice. According to a study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, emergency department physicians spend 44% of their time entering data into EHRs, clicking up to 4,000 times during a 10-hour shift. Most noteworthy, the results showed that physicians only spend 28% of their time with patients.

Challenges

The problem of physician burnout is complicated and there is no easy solution. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicts that there will be a nationwide shortage of nearly 90,000 physicians. With an average of 48% of doctors and 40% of nurses experiencing burnout, this is no surprise.

We highlight some challenges impacting providers below:

1.    Uncoordinated communication

Firstly, hospitals often choose an EHR system that has the doctor facing the screen over one that allows for doctors and patients to speak with each other, face to face. Uncoordinated doctor-patient and doctor-care team communication leads hospitals to waste millions every year. This inefficient communication leads to delays in treatment, uncoordinated care, siloed information, and lack of understanding.

2.    Information overload

Secondly, there are more types of data (ie, genomic, social determinants), more data sources (ie, wearable sensors), and different data timing needs (real-time vs. near real-time) than ever before. It’s important that data is actionable. For instance, without actionable data, providers may miss important details from excessive alerts, leading them to override best practice alerts. 

3.    Lack of automated tasks

Thirdly, inefficiencies come from the non-intuitive workflow of EHRs and the resulting demands placed upon them. The growing number of administrative tasks imposed on physicians and care teams, such as staff scheduling and refilling prescriptions, divert time and focus away from clinical activities.

Addressing Physician Burnout with Digital Health

Organizations should supplement their EHRs with digital health technologies to help reduce physician burnout. Digital health tools offer actionable data directly at points-of-care and enrich the provider-patient experience, allowing doctors to spend their time in their preferred way: with their patients. In turn, physicians can better meet their own needs and the needs of their patients.

To drive both physician and patient engagement, digital health platforms should consider the following elements:

Patient-focused. To become truly useful tools, care of the patient must become the EHR’s central function. Patients should enter their history, medications, and family history remotely, reducing demands on the care team during appointments. Allowing patient data to flow automatically diverts time and focus away from documentation and data entry. In return, providers can better understand patient needs, identify and mitigate risks, and improve follow-up care. 

Coordinated communication. Each year, hospitals waste an estimated $1.7M on inefficient communication systems in clinical settings. Communication tools such as secure messaging platforms, image/video sharing, screening mechanisms, and automated care pathways are possible digital health tools that can drive collaboration across the care continuum.

Configurable. Many EHRs follow a “one size fits all” model, which doesn’t adapt well to different sized practices, specialties, preferences or varying patient populations. In reality, each health system is different and has varying use cases. Digital health tools should be configurable to support varying institutional needs, including content and modules. In addition, unlike care pathways that are provided only upon discharge, intelligent solutions are introduced at the beginning of treatment. 

Information interpretation. An effective digital health solution looks at underlying analytics. This offers physicians powerful information to understand what is most effective in terms of optimizing for better health outcomes. In addition, solutions that offer advanced tools for escalation management (so users don’t have to interpret the raw data themselves) support clinical decisions. Further, graphical representations of patient-reported data and outcomes is an added bonus.

Wrap-Up

In short, digital health solutions tied directly into an EHR are increasingly valuable. Why? Because physicians can enhance and expedite the care they provide, helping both themselves and their patients.

Making a physician’s work-life more rewarding and enjoyable with digital health tools is a great investment. EHR integration leverages data and insights to provide relevant information, alerts to threats and opportunities, and financial and operational guidance. To learn more about how digital tools can support EHRs and patient-provider relationships, check out our post here.