Physician burnout is a hot term in healthcare, but it’s much more than a buzzword: A letter written by healthcare CEOs asserts that burnout is becoming a “national public health crisis.” More than half of 14,000 doctors surveyed in 2017 said they experienced burnout—an increase of 25 percent in four years.
Physicians aren’t the only ones experiencing burnout: Over a third of nurses reported being burned out as well. Doctors and nurses alike are working longer shifts, caring for more patients, and completing more documentation for those patients. To raise awareness about burnout, we will explore what burnout means; detail technology’s role; and most importantly, share how health IT can help clinicians love their jobs again.
The Symptoms of Burnout
What does burnout look like? The leading measure of burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), addresses three scales:
- Emotional exhaustion: measures feelings of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by one's work.
- Depersonalization: measures an unfeeling and impersonal response toward patients. This could be illustrated by cynicism, sarcasm, or “compassion fatigue.”
- Personal accomplishment: measures feelings of competence and successful achievement in one's work, or lack thereof. Burnout can be prompted by a significant event, like a malpractice lawsuit or devastating medical error, but for most, it’s a slow grind that may take time for clinicians or others around them to recognize.
Why Everyone Needs to Care About Burnout
The effects of burnout can directly impact colleagues and patients. Burnout can lead to reduced focus, effort, empathy, and bedside manner, which in turn, “could foster misdiagnoses and other medical errors and suboptimal care.” The adverse effect on care delivery underscores the importance of taking measures to prevent burnout in addition to responding to it.
Health IT’s Role in Clinician Burnout
When it comes to burnout, health IT gets a bad rap. Electronic health record (EHR) systems are often cited as a primary cause of burnout since they’ve increased screen time and decreased time with patients. A time-motion study found only 27 percent of a physician’s time is spent on direct clinical care. Further, a Mayo Clinic study directly pointed to the clerical burden of EHRs as a contributor to burnout. When EHRs fell short of expectations, many clinicians soured on not only EHRs, but also other healthcare technology.
How the Right Technology Can Help
There’s no silver bullet, but there are ways technology can enhance clinical workflows and give valuable time back to physicians and nurses:
1. Connect Care Teams
Technology can help eliminate silos by supporting centralized sources of information that are accessible by all and are updated in real time. For example, an enterprise-wide directory that can reference up-to-date contact information and on-call schedules for all roles makes it much easier to find the right person, even if you don’t know their name.
2. Save Steps
All of the little steps in a workflow can add up to a lot of time. Communication breakdowns are commonplace in the critical test results workflow because it tends to be manual at most hospitals. Critical test results management software can automate this process so when the results come back critical, the information is immediately sent to the ordering physician’s mobile device.
3. Gain Focus
Constant interruptions are a big part of day-to-day clinician frustration. Technology can help limit that by providing an indicator to your colleagues when you are unavailable. With a secure messaging solution, you can set your status so your colleagues know when you are off work, in a meeting, in surgery, or busy with a patient.
4. Delegate Non-Clinical Tasks
Technology can help doctors and nurses “practice at the top of their license” when it comes to patient care by sending patient requests and alerts to other staff members when applicable. For example, a patient may request water while a nurse is with another patient. Rather than receiving an alert with no context and having to leave the room to learn the request, the nurse can see it is for water on his mobile device, then forward to a non-clinical staff member to address.
5. Give Time Back to the Bedside
Technology can help allocate more time at the bedside by delivering actionable information and facilitating care team conversations. For example, if a nurse has concerns about her patient’s sudden change in status, she can quickly and easily contact the right team member via the enterprise directory.
Technology Alone Can’t Extinguish Burnout
We highly encourage hospitals to take steps to make sure physicians and nurses are at the table for technology decisions that impact their workflows and patient care. How are you extinguishing the flames of physician and nurse burnout at your hospital?
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
Originally published October 3, 2017, updated August 16, 2018