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EHR Technology a Key Contributor to Physician Burnout

EHR technology is a key contributor to physician burnout, which top healthcare leaders are now calling a public health crisis.

EHR technology contributes to physician burnout

Source: Thinkstock

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- A group of top healthcare CEOs is calling on their colleagues across the healthcare industry to address physician burnout as a public health crisis and identified EHR technology as a key contributing factor.

“The spike in reported burnout is directly attributable to loss of control over work, increased performance measurement (quality, cost, patient experience), the increasing complexity of medical care, the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), and profound inefficiencies in the practice environment, all of which have altered work flows and patient interactions,” write the authors of recent post on Health Affairs Blog.

As leaders of some of the nation’s top healthcare organizations, health systems, hospitals, physician practices — the American Medical Association, Partners HealthCare, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Atrius Health (to name a few) — the authors are calling on healthcare CEOs to address physician burnout as a precursor of bad things to come for healthcare across the country.

“The high level of burnout among physicians should be considered an early warning sign of dysfunction in our health care system,” they write. “Professional satisfaction for physicians is primarily driven by the ability to provide high-quality care to patients in an efficient manner. Dissatisfaction is driven by factors that impede this effort, including administrative and regulatory burdens, limitations of current technology, an inefficient practice environment, excessive clerical work, and conflicting payer requirements. High levels of physician burnout can thus be seen as an indicator of poor performance by the underlying system and environment.”

The 11 healthcare CEOs who authored the piece referred to two studies that demonstrate the negative effects of physician burnout on the quality and cost of care.

“Prospective longitudinal studies from the Mayo Clinic demonstrate that for every 1-point increase in burnout score, there is a 43 percent increase in likelihood a physician will reduce clinical effort in the following 24 months,” they observe. “The experience from Atrius Health suggests that replacing a physician who retires early or leaves to pursue other career opportunities can cost between $500,000 and $1 million due to recruitment, training, and lost revenue during this time.”

The healthcare CEOs consider EHR technology to one of several key contributors to physician burnout despite the benefits of these forms of health IT.

“While they have the potential to make a major contribution to patient safety and enhanced coordination of care, EHRs have also radically altered and disrupted established workflows and patient interactions, become a source of interruptions and distraction and are very time intensive,” they maintain.

To mitigate the negative effects of EHR technology on physicians, the authors call on various stakeholders across the industry to work together to improve EHR usability.

 “While EHRs are evolving in a meaningful way in some institutions, the pace of enhancement must accelerate across the board,” they continue. “Health care delivery organizations, organized medicine, payers and other interested parties need to work with EHR vendors to improve their product offerings, which could reduce EHRs burden on physicians.”

The healthcare CEOs are issuing a call to action to fellow CEOs who “must embrace physician well-being as a critical factor in the long-term clinical and financial success of our organizations” and commit to taking nearly a dozen actions to address this public health crisis.

One, in particular, would require healthcare CEOs to work with AMA on improving EHR technology. “Encourage and support the AMA and other national organizations to work with regulators and technology vendors to align technology and policy with advanced models of team-based care and to reduce the burden of the EHR on all users,” the authors note.

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