Survey: Doctor burnout tied to perceived poor EHR usability

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A survey of U.S. physicians finds that the lower doctors rate the usability of their electronic health records, the higher the likelihood that they are experiencing symptoms of professional burnout.

The study, a joint effort by researchers at the American Medical Association, Mayo Clinic and Stanford, revealed that dermatologists, general surgeons and orthopedic surgeons rated their EHRs especially poorly.

Results of the survey, published on Thursday in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, also showed that older doctors found EHRs less usable than younger physicians.

“The usability of current EHR systems received a grade of F by physician users when evaluated using a standardized metric of technology usability,” state the study’s authors. “A strong dose-response relationship between EHR usability and the odds of burnout was observed.”

In the survey, EHR usability was assessed using the System Usability Scale, a 10-item questionnaire that has been used in more than 1,300 other usability studies in various industries. Burnout was measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, an introspective psychological inventory consisting of 22 items pertaining to occupational burnout.

“This cross-sectional survey of U.S. physicians from all specialty disciplines was conducted between October 12, 2017, and March 15, 2018, using the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile,” according to the authors. “Among the 30,456 invited physicians, 5197 (17.1 percent) completed surveys. A random 25 percent (n=1250) of respondents in the primary survey received a subsurvey evaluating EHR usability, and 870 (69.6 percent) completed it.”

In response to the study, the American Medical Association called for improved EHR usability.

“A new study issued today found electronic health records—as currently designed, implemented and regulated—lack usability as a necessary feature, resulting in EHRs that are extremely hard to use compared to other common technologies,” said AMA President Patrice Harris, MD, in a written statement. “Poor EHR usability was found to be highly correlated with physician burnout.”

While the usability of current EHR systems received a grade of F by physicians in the study, users in other studies gave Google's search engine an A and a B to Amazon, ATMs and microwave ovens.

Harris added that the study’s findings “will not come as a surprise to anyone who practices medicine,” noting that there is a “national imperative to overhaul the design and use of EHRs and reframe the technology to focus primarily on its most critical function—helping physicians care for their patients.”

In the study, physicians reported spending one to two hours on EHRs and other deskwork for every hour spent with patients, and an additional one to two hours daily of personal time on EHR-related activities.

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