HIT Think

Why it’s essential to solve all causes of physician burnout

A new Twitter account called @EPICEMRparody is garnering a lot of attention for its comments about the burdens placed upon physicians and other clinicians connected to the use of electronic medical records.

The account not only skewers the frustrating tedious work and additions to work created by EMRs, but it also recounts other points of frustration to daily practice among physicians.

As can often be said about satire, it is an easy way of getting to inconvenient and harsh truths. Cloaking an issue in humor will draw attention and quick understanding. However, when satire is all too close to the real world, then the frustration can become all too apparent.

The reality being captured by the account was also highlighted in a recent article that reviewed the issues raised by EMR use, and it highlighted the diverging views from EMR vendors and the physicians using the products. It states that EMR vendors contend that EMRs are not necessarily a primary driver of physician burnout.

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The popular storyline is that EMRs drive up the occurrence of burnout because the EMR interferes with the smooth flow of interaction between physicians and patients, as well as adding numerous administrative burdens onto physicians.

Despite the anecdotes about EMR problems, the EMR vendor industry is pushing back on that narrative. Recently, citing data not yet released, the records vendors suggested that despite EMRs being cited as the second leading cause for burnout, there is not correspondingly high dissatisfaction with clinical records systems. Without the benefit of the data behind those conclusions, it is difficult to assess the accuracy or even the source of the data.

Regardless of what research has been done or verified, there are some serious issues when it comes to what physicians encounter and must address in daily practice. Some common complaints include being made to feel like data entry clerks, not being able to focus on maintaining an actual conversation with patients, not being able to find data and numerous other issues. All of the complaints come down to the issue of not being able to really engage with patients and pursue what they thought would be their role when entering the practice of medicine.

The concerns are garnering a growing amount of general attention. That means concerns about burnout are being brought to the fore and not just pushed into the background. An open and honest discussion about burnout is essential. Otherwise, physicians could leave medicine altogether or take other more drastic actions.

What can be done to address burnout? That remains an open question. While there will not be one simple or single solution, just discussing the issue and thinking about how to realign medicine is a significant start.

Additionally, recognizing that the initial iteration of health technology tools including EMRs did not result in the expected medical nirvana is also important. From that perspective, many solutions and programs are now more actively considering how to actually make a physician’s practice easier and trying to think about a physician’s actual workflow. Instead of imposing a solution onto a non-existent problem or thinking that the developer knows best, there can be some back and forth or research into where real pain points exist.

Progress to reducing burnout will take time, although hopefully not too much when taking into account the toll on physicians and, correspondingly, patients. Too much is at stake in the healthcare system to let burnout continue to mount. In the meantime, each person asking themselves how they can help and reaching out to a physician and expressing concerns will help. Collective effort will be appreciated.

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