Physicians are spending more time in EHR inboxes, exacerbating burnout, study says

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During the first 15 months of the pandemic, physicians experienced "a small but sustained increase" in EHR messages from patients, despite a decrease in the number of patients seeking care during the same period, according to research published Oct. 12 in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers from Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic and New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University analyzed 10.8 million EHR messages to 419 physicians from 38 specialties across 141 ambulatory practice sites in New England from March 2018 to June 2021.

Between March 2020 and June 2021, the average messages received per day increased from 45 to 46 for primary care physicians, from 29.3 to 32.0 for medical physicians, and from 16.6 to 23.3 for surgical physicians.  

Patient-originated messages increased, with average numbers of messages received per day more than doubling for all three physician categories. This means the time physicians spent in their EHR inbox increased across specialities.

"Burnout related to inbox burden is established," the researchers wrote."Given the existing physician burnout crisis and the already known pandemic-related stressors and risks to the physician workforce, the additional inbox burden reported here warrants additional exploration to assess the nature of pandemic-related medical advice requests and the generalizability of these findings."

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