Physicians and EHRs: How administrators can use tech to mitigate physicians' frustration, burnout

Hospital administrators should ask themselves specific questions about how the use of technology, such as EHRs, is affecting physician well-being and how officials can use technology to mitigate stress and burnout among staff.

The relationship between providers and their organizations' EHRs served as the main topic of discussion during a May 11 panel at the Becker's Hospital Review Health IT + Clinical Leadership 2018 conference, which took place May 10-11 in Chicago. Panelists included Arthur Eskew, MD, principal outcomes consultant at Allscripts, and Tim Lineberry, MD, CMO of Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care.

Here are four insights panelists shared during the discussion.

1. "The elephant in the room is that we know that we spend half our time on data entry and the EHR," Dr. Lineberry said. "We've customized [the EHR] so much that some of the tools that are available in the EHR are not as useful" to providers.

2. In discussing the functions of EHRs, Dr. Eskew noted some of the clerical functions ubiquitous in EHR systems, such as drop-down menus, draw physicians' focus away from the patient and force them to spend more time jotting down notes in the system.  

"What do you really need to capture [in terms of data] and what do you not?" Dr. Eskew said. "Focus on capturing what you have to capture and who has to capture it and if you [as an institution] can 'spread the wealth' in terms of who holds responsibilities in the [data-capture] process and the workflow."

3. Dr. Eskew also noted that when in doubt, hospital administrators turn to their IT departments to manage the system's EHR, a move that may not be as beneficial to providers who must navigate the system.

"Those in the IT shop … are often sent out on a journey on their own to 'meet the needs' of their customers and physicians and they don't have the tools they need and the understanding they need to really know what those clinical workflows are like and that every little click matters," he said.

4. Drs. Lineberry and Eskew discussed the importance of addressing burnout at every organization and ways to specifically prevent physician burnout.

"Burnout is a business issue. If you lose one physician … that's an immediate issue from a revenue standpoint," Dr. Lineberry said. "There's just purely a business case within [burnout that], although it may not be seen as a cost, is a huge issue."

Dr. Eskew noted one way to potentially mitigate physician burnout is through the use of medical scribes. While he didn't necessarily see the value in scribes before, he noted losing physicians ultimately negatively affects patient care.

"I didn't used to believe in scribes, but I think I was looking at it from the wrong perspective," he said. "What we're missing is the real evidence about how well [scribes] work and what the outcomes of [using them] are," he said, adding that scribes help "alleviate burnout and are therefore probably worth [investing in]."

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