According to the American Medical Association, about 50 percent of practicing doctors are experiencing burnout and EHRs are a significant driver of this problem. For every hour physicians spend on direct patient care, the report indicates that they spend two hours on EHR data entry and other administrative tasks. All of this adds up to more time spent with computers than with patients.
Organizational, regulatory, and technological factors are eroding many physicians’ passion for the profession, and driving young interns and seasoned veterans alike to leave medicine altogether. About 30 percent of practicing physicians say they would not embark on a medical career if they could start over. Should these attitudes persist, the forecasted physician shortage will surely come to pass.
While healthcare IT is only one element of the larger problem, it is one that can be addressed today, and implementing the right solution can pay immediate dividends.
Transforming healthcare IT usage from a burden to an asset
Currently, when a physician logs into an EHR, he or she sees the same information regardless of his or her area of practice, the disease state he or she is dealing with, or whether their patient is new or existing. This generic approach to presenting patient information can lead to the inability to find data and respond to test or lab results, delay orders, and fracture a provider’s train of thought.
In contrast, a well-optimized EHR is not one-size-fits-all. Rather, it presents data in a way that is consistent with each physician’s thought process and workflow and enables the physician to act on that information quickly and accurately.
For example, as a hospitalist, one of the first things I do in the morning is pre-round, which can easily take up to an hour. Healthcare technology has the ability to help streamline pre-rounds by highlighting the critical changes overnight and help prioritize tasks for that day, intelligently, and in a manner that is consistent with how the physician practices. By streamlining the process, physicians are able to get on the floor, and by the patient’s bedside, sooner. And with less time required for documentation and other administrative overhead, providers might even spend more time with patients than with the EHR!
Advances in artificial intelligence, data visualization, and modern interface design present opportunities to dramatically improve the usability and clinical value of IT. Ideally, physicians will have a single environment to interact with, in which all the applications they use co-exist. Think of it as the physician’s “system of engagement” versus the EHR, which is the hospital’s “system of record”. It’s analogous to a traveler using a consumer-friendly website like Kayak to book a flight rather than interacting directly with a complex system like Sabre, which sits on the backend and processes reservation transactions with the airlines.
Bolstering the bottom line
A well-designed clinician-facing information technology system can be a starting point for better patient care. Investing in the physician experience can also lead to a stronger bottom line. A study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management found that employers spend the equivalent of six to nine months of an employee’s salary finding and training their replacement. By investing in physicians’ professional experience and satisfaction, hospital executives can reduce both recruitment expense and the ripples of operational disruption that come with turnover.
Research has also consistently shown that when the physician is happier, patients are happier. Patient satisfaction is positively correlated with better outcomes. Patient satisfaction and improved outcomes both impact a hospital’s reputation and bottom line.
What’s to come
It is crucial that the healthcare industry focuses on putting physicians first in an effort to reduce physician burnout. In order to start the process, the industry needs to give providers a voice in what will make their day-to-day lives, and the care they deliver, more efficient.
While the underlying problems are complex, healthcare leaders must act aggressively where and whenever they can to reconnect physicians with their love of medicine for the sake of the quality of care, their organization’s performance, and the overall vitality of the American healthcare system. Physicians deserve the same support and respect their patients receive. From a healthcare IT perspective, this means customized, workflow-specific systems. When the tools we provide our physicians become an extension of them — making them sharper, more effective, and free to spend more time interacting with their patients — we will begin to see positive change in both the physician experience and the overall state of our healthcare system.
Christopher Maiona, M.D., is PatientKeeper’s Chief Medical Officer, responsible for providing clinical leadership across the company. Maiona helps guide PatientKeeper customers in how they can improve their physician experience and clinical outcomes utilizing PatientKeeper products, and brings a clinical voice to the product design and implementation processes.