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How Technology Can Help Ease Physician Burnout

Authored by: Phallynn Espinoza 

Early retirements, an aging population, and a training path that takes up to 10 years to complete are throwing the doctor-patient supply equation out of balance. According to the American Medical Association, the U.S. will face an anticipated shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034.  

 

As a result, it’s no surprise that burnout symptoms were reported by 63% of physicians at the end of 2021; an increase from 42% during 2019. Of course, we have the pandemic to consider, but burnout is still on the rise overall.  

 

When I talk to doctors, some worry that technology adds to physician burnout. But I would propose that technology can actually be part of the solution when you understand what’s causing the problem and how to use tools more effectively.  

How the wrong technology contributes to physician burnout 

Adopting new technology, like an EHR system, is exciting. The prospect of speeding up workflows and productivity is attractive. But when I speak with practices, I often hear their technology is a source of frustration rather than relief. Here are three common reasons why:  

  1. The technology was never a great fit.  
  1. The technology is solid, but implementation and training fell short. 
  1. Practices didn’t keep up with software updates and features.  

For example, an EHR system has many features that speed up workflows and help reduce administrative burden for doctors. But you have to understand how to use it. An EHR system often comes with pre-built templates, and they work decently, but if you’re looking to save time, customizing templates is a shortcut.  

A doctor might constantly create the same inputs when charting, but you can create shorthand to cue AI to autofill. This capability alone significantly speeds up charting and helps doctors move through tasks faster.  

Many of these shortcuts are available, but the key is identifying the processes slowing you down, so you can ask: Do I need better technology, better training, or both?  

How the right technology supports reducing physician burnout 

When dealing with burnout, the first place to look is physician mental health and your well-being outside the practice, but, here, in the context of technology, are a few other areas that may contribute to feeling burned out:  

Find process bottlenecks. Sit down and figure out what you spend most of your time doing. Besides seeing patients, what takes up most of your time throughout your day? What specific tasks do you think are leading to burnout? Is it the constant drain of charting activities? List your burnout hot spots. 

 

Talk with your existing technology partner. Bring your list to your vendor and ask, Do we have any capabilities that can help solve these problems? A good vendor will help troubleshoot and support you with getting your staff trained in the necessary areas. Training does require an upfront investment, but the long-term time savings are significant. I’ve found the practices that are happiest with their technology are those that schedule time and have a budget for training. 

 

Look outside your current vendor. Maybe your existing technology isn’t capable of solving burnout-related problems, or it doesn’t provide the necessary training to get your staff up to speed. Either way, it’s probably time to find a new partner who can meet your needs.  

 

Weigh time savings against cost savings. As you decide which solution will help solve burnout-related problems, cost comes into play. It has to, right? But remember to account for time savings, burnout reduction, and physician turnover. Less time spent working in your EHR can also mean more time with patients…the real reason you do what you do. These variables are critically important, but surprisingly, I don’t always see practitioners work them into the ROI equation 

 

Solutions for physician burnout and patient care  

As more doctors retire, the strain on practices could grow, causing those left behind to be at increased risk for burnout. And yes, change can seem painful, but burnout is too.  

 

Getting ahead of this challenge with the proper tools and training that targets problem areas helps improve productivity and ease stress. And at the end of the day, when physicians suffer less burnout, they’re in a better state to serve patients and provide care.  

 

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