Giving physicians the time to be clinicians again — 4 key thoughts on physician burnout

The fast-paced technology-driven healthcare field has spurred innovation and initiatives focused on enhancing patient care. With the good however, comes a serious, and as data proves, a far-reaching problem — physician burnout.

The 2016 Medscape Lifestyle Report surveyed more than 15,800 physicians spanning more than 25 specialties. The survey found among critical care, urology and emergency medicine physicians, nearly 55 percent reported a symptom of burnout. Burnout's fallout may impact patient care with burned out physician reporting a bias of 55 percent, 10 percent higher than physicians who are not burned out.

Andrew Brooks, MD, co-founder and chief medical officer of TigerText, is well-versed in the administrative burdens and data requirements driving burnout. He started the company to help physicians improve and eliminate the stress of the convoluted communication system.

Here are four thoughts on physician burnout:

1. Physicians are engaging in a balancing act. The influx of technology can pave the way for better treatment and care, but it often takes away time physicians could spend with patients.

"The increase in electronic documentation is staggering and this added layer of work has resulted in physicians spending more and more time being data entry clerks and less time being able to be clinicians," Dr. Brooks says.

Physicians are often pressed for time between obtaining all the necessary data CMS demands while also providing patients the highest quality of care. Oftentimes, this constant push and pull can lead to burnout despite a physician's best intentions.

2. Burnout may have major consequences as the United States faces a physician shortage. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently found the United States will face a shortage of between 61,700 physicians and 94,700 physicians by 2025. If burnout continues to escalate, this number may increase if physicians opt to leave medicine.

"The training process for a physician is no less than 11 to 15 years depending on the specialty. You don't just snap your fingers and mint new doctors," Dr. Brooks says. "With less physicians willing to do the work, who will take care of our sick?"

3. Healthcare is slow to respond. The healthcare industry is struggling to keep pace with technology, and is often not equipped with the tools to handle the possible fallouts. Despite communication tools flooding the industry, getting the right information to the right person in a timely manner may be a challenge for many healthcare facilities. Additionally, some practices choose to not implement technology that would improve the coordination of care.

"The very same clinicians who rely on faxes and pagers would never opt in to using those technologies in their personal lives. Most of us carry smartphones, which allows us to communicate asynchronously," Dr Brook says. "Less frustration and less friction with workflow will go a long way toward mitigating burnout rates."

Technological solutions can improve the communication process for ambulatory surgery centers and hospitals alike. An integrated communication system may alleviate many frustrations providers face while also enhancing patient care.

4. Providers have all the tools in place for success. The demand for data will continue to increase, and the industry has technology available to facilitate change.

"With the combination of digitization of records combined with ubiquitous presence of smartphones, the ability to act on the information available is now here," Dr. Brooks says.  

The key is to take the data from technology to improve patients' lives, although operability is no easy feat.

"Our challenge is now to work toward a new and different thought process on workflow. Fortunately, we have seen a massive shift recently toward understanding this, and that's great news for physicians and nurses," he adds.

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