You’ve probably heard it by now: clinician burnout is at crisis levels, severely impacting clinicians’ mental health and causing many to leave healthcare. There are lots of shocking numbers around burnout. A 2021 survey found that 61% of physicians reported burnout. Of nurses that say they are likely to leave their job by the end of the year, 44% said it’s because of burnout. These numbers are big, but what do they really mean? What impact does burnout have? And what role does tech play in all of this?
Effects of Clinician Burnout
Clinician burnout impacts everyone: clinicians, healthcare systems, patients, and the public. For clinicians, burnout can increase stress, disruptive behavior, mood disorders, and mental health. 55% of physicians know of a physician who considered, attempted, or died by suicide (if you are experiencing a crisis, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or if it is after July 16, 2022 you can also dial 988).
Burnout can increase the odds that clinicians leave clinical practice. According to the AAMC, the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. This means that there won’t be enough physicians to meet the demand for services in a timely manner, which can impact health outcomes. A study at Stanford Medicine found that physicians with burnout had more than twice the odds of self-reported medical error, which could also impact patient care.
For organizations, if the repercussions for clinicians well-being and patient health is not enough, there are also monetary consequences of burnout. Estimates suggest that in the U.S., the costs attributable to physician burnout (for turnover and reduced clinical hours) are $4.6 billion a year. At an organizational level, the financial cost associated with burnout-related turnover is $7600 per employed physician per year.
Tech Contributing to Burnout
So how is tech involved? Some people believe tech is a main contributor to burnout. One study found that of physicians who were burned out, almost 75% said the EHR was a contributor to their burnout. Similarly, a Mayo Clinic study found that physicians gave EHR an “F” on the usability scale, and found that for every 1 point higher physician rating on the usability scale, there were 3% lower odds of burnout.
Now, usability is only part of the problem. The 2022 Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report found that 60% of physicians said that charting and paperwork were the main contributors to their burnout. More regulations and more daily patient appointments have created more documentation and administrative work for clinicians. This increase has happened alongside the adoption of EHRs in many health systems, which is why some of this burnout is attributed to technology.
Tech As A Solution for Burnout
While this may suggest technology is bad for healthcare, there is actually hope that technology can reduce burnout and improve healthcare. One way tech can reduce burnout is by making it more user-friendly and intuitive to reduce wasted time and stress of the tech being unable to do what the clinicians want. A study at Yale found that allowing physicians to use badges to log-in to their EHR instead of typing usernames and passwords saved them 20 minutes a day. While it is difficult to find studies directly linking click fatigue to burnout, extra clicks take time and the redundancy is a big frustration for clinicians.
Usability can also be increased by tailoring tech for different uses. A 2017 study at the University of Illinois Chicago found that creating unique EHR interfaces for different specialities and care settings reduced the number of clicks and streamlined usability. Additionally, better training – specifically training clinicians how to personalize their tech – can drive tech satisfaction.
Tech can also be used to reduce clinicians’ workload without sacrificing quality of care. Clinicians spend over two and half hours a day on documentation and administrative tasks. A lot of this time is spent duplicating documentation from various workarounds (paper, texts, word docs) and putting it into the EHR. Tech, such as care orchestration platforms, eliminate this duplicative work and streamline workflows, saving clinicians over an hour each day.
Clinicians’ reluctance to try new tech is understandable. With the challenges that current tools pose, why would clinicians want even more technology? But when clinicians get tech that is designed by clinicians, for clinicians, clinicians can see the difference and will voluntarily adopt the technology. Even with the rough stops along the way, we think health tech will continue to improve healthcare for clinicians and patients alike.