Physician burnout: What organizations are doing to cope with the fire under their feet

Physicians are overburdened with onerous administrative tasks that are eating into the time they would prefer to spend with patients. Not only are these excessive documentation requirements taking a toll on physicians, but they are also contributing to financial challenges for health systems.


During Becker's Hospital Review's 12th Annual Meeting, in a session sponsored by DeliverHealth — a leading healthcare software and services company — Michael Clark, chief executive officer of DeliverHealth, and Jodie Hilliker, senior director of EHR and Managed Services at DeliverHealth, led a roundtable discussion about charting a map to a better physician experience. 

Three key insights were:

1. Organizations' efforts to tackle physician burnout have had mixed success. Many clinicians are burned out. This due in part to the intense stress caused by COVID-19 and in part to longstanding fatigue from burdensome administrative requirements. The degree of burnout is causing many physicians to consider early retirement. 

Organizations have attempted to remediate the issue by hiring hospitalist scribes, physician assistants, contract nurses and other locum providers to help with the workload; devising work Relative Value Units (RVUs) to incentivize physicians to deliver in-person care or to re-hire those who had left and relaxing rules for hard-stop alerts in the EHR. 

However, while these various steps aim to alleviate physician burnout, some may have a negative effect in terms of revenue. One panelist shared that her organization is still waiting to hear from the CFO whether relaxing hard stops has resulted in a drop in revenue. Another attendee stated that even physicians who are not necessarily burned out are sometimes reluctant to return and do procedures in the hospital. 

"It takes anywhere from $500,000 to one million dollars to replace a physician," Ms. Hilliker said, framing the impact that extreme physician burnout has on an organization's bottom line, not to mention its culture and the overall environment.

2. To prevent staff burnout, some organizations are turning to analytics. The right data and analytics can enable health systems to spot signs of physician burnout in real time and act early. "We're watching closely the amount of off-hour utilization to try to get ahead of somebody who's got problems, who needs remediation or assistance or who's just a bad time utilizer," one participant said. 

DeliverHealth provides an analytics tool that tracks this and other types of data that can help determine who is struggling, when they are struggling and precisely what they are struggling with. "This way if you bring in outside resources, the tool will tell them exactly where they need to focus [their efforts]," Ms. Hilliker said.

3. Automation technologies are seen as go-to measures to help offload administrative tasks and decrease burnout. Organizations looking to reduce clinician burnout are leveraging automated or self-directed support systems and tools, including dedicated physician hotlines, digital front doors that enable patients to self-schedule appointments and chatbots that answer frequent questions. 

"[Using such technologies] is not necessarily an expensive endeavor and if you have experts on the other end . . . that's even more beneficial," Ms. Hilliker said.

Automation technologies and analytics tools such as DeliverHealth's can help identify and reduce physician burnout, allowing physicians to do what they really want — spend more time caring for their patients. 

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