Physicians are stressed. A 2019 report by Medscape shows that 44% of the physicians they surveyed in 2018 reported feeling burnt out. The stress is so bad for some that they are leaving the healthcare industry to pursue entirely different careers. Many who continue to practice medicine are finding unhealthy ways of coping including self-medicating, socially withdrawing, and abusing alcohol. What’s worse, doctors now have the highest rate of suicide among all professionals. The Medscape report shows that one physician attempts suicide every day in the United States. So, why are our doctors struggling? You might be surprised to learn that a lot of it has nothing to do with actual hands-on patient care. Many physicians are besieged with administrative bureaucracy.
Medscape’s survey, which collected responses from over 15,000 physicians across more than 29 specialties in the United States, shows that 59% of respondents cited charting and paperwork as a significant contributor to their burnout. Another 32% specifically cited their electronic health record (EHR) as a factor. EHRs are the repositories that store information about a patient’s care. Entering data into an EHR can be incredibly tedious and time-consuming. For every hour spent working with patients, providers can spend upwards of two hours entering data into their EHR. This makes for incredibly long workdays that take away from a physician’s ability to make time for their family, friends, and other interests outside work.
While EHRs do offer several advantages, including automated prescribing, medical error reduction, and enhanced security for sensitive patient information, they are often cumbersome for doctors to use. They can be so user-unfriendly that an entire industry of medical scribes was born out of the extreme frustration voiced by physicians who felt shackled to their EHRs. Scribes are individuals who sometimes accompany providers during patient visits and navigate the EHR on their behalf. Scribes enter information into the EHR at the direction of the doctor. This can help the doctor better keep their focus on the patient. However, scribes aren’t a cure-all. Scribes can be expensive to employ, and high turnover can be an issue.
As an alternative to scribes, some medical facilities have deployed speech recognition technology to ease the documentation burdens on physicians. Because a doctor can speak much more quickly than they can type, this technology can reduce the amount of time a provider spends in the EHR. The problem with voice recognition is that it still demands the attention of the doctor because misrecognitions by the speech technology require manual correction by the physician. Add to that, doctors need to learn how to use the speech technology, and this still leaves another glaring problem. Many patients take offense to providers keeping their focus on a computer screen instead of actively listening to them during their visit. Patients want their doctors to make eye contact with them and to be present with them during their visit. Speech recognition technology can get in the way of doctors and patients connecting on a human level.
Of course, we live in a time when data-driven decisions can only be made when the data is collected and analyzed. And because doctors treat patients and know their health status most intimately, many believe that physicians are best suited to populate the EHR with clinical findings. But, is this the case? Ask most any doctor, and they’re apt to tell you that they didn’t enter medical school with ambitions of becoming data entry clerks post graduation. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what many physicians have become in hospitals, surgery centers, and private practices all over the country. While data capture is essential, tasking providers with multiple hours of administrative work daily isn’t sustainable.
Understandably, doctors are in a tough position. They are expected to meet productivity goals and simultaneously make patients feel cared for without sacrificing their personal well-being. They are expected to be superhuman and often tacitly guilted for seeking help when they most need it. As a result, what ends up happening too often is that the administrative demands make it so that providers have to cut back on the number of patients they see each day, just so they can keep up with EHR requirements. Consequently, this limits access to care, which isn’t beneficial for patients who need treatment.
It doesn’t make sense to take a physician, one of the most educated and skilled professionals on a medical center’s payroll, and make them responsible for hours upon hours of ongoing data entry. When so many physicians complain of burnout, resort to unhealthy ways of coping, quit their profession or worse, healthcare is at the precipice of a breaking point. Technology is supposed to enhance lives, not make people slaves to it. It is incumbent on healthcare facilities to make sure their doctors are cared for and supported. Without a meaningful change to the current broken process, doctors will continue to suffer, and patient care will be put at risk.
Athreon understands the challenges faced by both physicians and the medical facilities that employ them. We provide healthcare professionals with easy-to-use dictation and remote transcription solutions that enable providers to keep their focus on their patients and still meet EHR objectives. If your facility is struggling with physician satisfaction and retention or if patients are complaining to you about how your medical staff interacts with them during office visits, we invite you to contact us for a no-risk, no-commitment consultation.