Doctor burnout is a real phenomenon, one that’s only become more prevalent and more dangerous in recent times.

Not only can burnout lead to mistakes that can harm patients, but it can also cause otherwise top-notch physicians to eventually drop the profession altogether, which only furthers the clinician shortage and leads to more burnout for those left behind. 

It’s a vicious cycle, one we as a society can ill-afford. And while there are a number of factors that contribute to physician burnout, one of the oft-cited reasons is frustration with the IT and medical computers that have become such a central part of a doctor’s workflow.

But how do we know that HIT and tech-stress are contributing to physician burnout?

Are HIT Worries Causing Burnout?

As the great Levar Burton put it: “don’t take my word for it.” 

According to a survey of Rhode Island physicians, of which over 1700 doctors gave responses, 70% reported “HIT-related stress.” And those who specifically stated they had frustration with EHRs also have over 2x the rate of burnout than those who didn’t report such frustration.

Of course, as in all things, correlation is not causation: its entirely possible that physicians who are already burned-out would find EHR more frustrating than those who aren’t. Still, these kinds of survey answers and statistics bear out time after time. HIT and EMR are hardly to blame for all physician frustration: the fact is, being a doctor is an extremely stressful job that puts a person hip-deep in traumatic experiences.

Still, we must admit that the numbers don’t look great, and even a small contribution to such a debilitating condition can be improved or remedied. And considering that “burnout” is officially categorized as a medical condition by the World Health Organization, it’s time to take it more seriously.

Consider too the incredible cost, not only to individual doctors and patients (which can be extremely detrimental), but to the hospital itself: it’s been calculated that the cost of replacing a burned-out physician is 2 to 3 times the physician’s annual salary, with lost revenue for a a full time physician totaling up almost $999,000 per year. Altogether, the costs of burnout and turnover could be near $1.7 billion per year in the United States alone. 

But if HIT is often times considered to be the culprit, can it also be the answer? What strategies, technologies, training, and limitation can be implemented to give doctors some breathing room? 

Save Log-In Time

We’ve already discussed the role EHR plays in doctor annoyance, so we’ll just say that the amount of clerical work done by doctors has gotten out of hand.

However, there are other methods to reduce the hassle of administrative work for physicians.

Remembering 18 different passwords for as many programs, accounts, and computers is hugely frustrating for anyone, as is having to contact and/or track down the IT guy when they’ve forgotten and need a reset. This is where something like a biometric scanner or a smart card, attached to a single sign-on program like Imprivata, can reduce clinician stress.  

An EMR computer or medical tablet with a built-in fingerprint scanner (or RFID, or smart card, whichever form you choose) is simple to log into: the doctor just walks up to their cart computer or terminal and just swipes their card/finger and moves on with their day. And while that may not seem like a lot of saved time, consider how many exam rooms or offices a doctor visits on a given day. Then consider all of the wasted time of a doctor having to track all of their passwords and/or hunt down IT when they need something reset. 

Plus, the benefit to HIT is clear as well: a single sign-on like Imprivata stores all of the passwords in one secure, encrypted location. 

Get Doctors Involved in IT Strategy

Not all doctors are tech-savvy keyboard-slingers, it’s true. However, it’s also important to remember that the opposite is also true: most IT guys aren’t doctors. 

I’m not just stating the obvious here, but pointing out a simple fact that gets easily lost: the people using the tech, in the field, are doctors and nurses. And yet, many hospitals and healthcare groups exclude them from the planning and design process. This would be like a fish trying to design gloves: they don’t even have fingers, and all of their knowledge is theoretical.

Doctors know where their tech pain points are. They’re in the trenches, taking the shells, struggling with EMR, telehealth devices, shoddy peripherals, or unclear directions. They’re experiencing burnout, shortages, lack of time, and other stressors, while at the same time trying to deploy the newest bit of HIT strategy or equipment. 

Every HIT department — whether local to the hospital or to an entire healthcare group — needs to reach out to the doctors on staff who are willing to partner with the IT department and provide useful, actionable intelligence for how doctors are using tech, what they expect from their medical computers, and where they can use better training.

Adopt Telehealth to Reduce Unnecessary Doctor Visits

Telehealth has been gaining in popularity in recent years and can serve as a tremendous resource for physicians experiencing burnout. We’ve written about this in the past, but the adoption of telehealth has been proven to dramatically reduce the number of needless doctor visits. Simply using a medical computer or tablet to facetime with a patient can provide the peace of mind and provide answers to general questions that a patient needs. In some studies, the adoption of telehealth reduced unnecessary doctor visits by nearly 50%. Not only does this allow clinicians to spend more time with patients who actually need in-person attention (that’s why people go into healthcare in the first place), but it also leads to less paperwork or time spent in an EHR application.

For hospitals and ERs, reducing the number of visits also plays a huge role in monitoring chronic conditions and reducing HAIs (hospital acquired infections). Using telehealth and IoT medical devices can be used to keep patients on track with their treatments plans without the need for doctor visits for routine check-ins. Also, successfully monitoring a patient away from the hospital greatly reduces the risk of HAIs, improving patient outcomes and saving facilities money in the long term. Multiple studies have shown that the adoption of telehealth can reduce the mortality rate of chronically ill patients anywhere between 15%-56%.

Fighting Fire with Fire

Just because the stress of learning new technology can contribute to burnout, it doesn’t mean that very same technology can’t make things better! Remember: an axe can be used to chop down a tree, save someone trapped behind a door in a flaming house, or, you know, more nefarious purposes. Like anything, technology is a tool, and when deployed correctly can improve not only our workflow but our entire state of mind. 

To hear some success stories where new tech and a strong deployment strategy made life in a hospital better, or to learn more about the technology itself, contact Cybernet today.