How Health IT Can Mitigate the Effects of Physician Burnout

Exhaustion. Depersonalization. Lack of Efficacy. These three cardinal symptoms that characterize physician burnout, as defined by the World Health Organization, and measurable by the Maslach Burnout InventoryTM, developed by Christina Maslach and her colleagues at the University of San Francisco in the 1970s. These symptoms also describe the realities of medical personnel working endlessly to manage patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. While all physicians expect some level of workaholic, superhero, perfectionist and lone ranger experiences, 2020 dealt a destructive blow and made provider burnout even worse. 
Our nation’s clinicians have expressed burnout for several years due to personal and professional stressors. According to Medscape’s 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression and Suicide Report, 44% of physicians reported feeling burned out. Another 15% reported some level of depression. And this was all before COVID-19
Personal stressors due to family responsibilities, time pressure and lack of control are commonplace for everyone. But new professional disruptions have worsened the burnout situation for our nation’s medical personnel. Here are four challenges to consider:
  • Compelled technological transformation resulting from EHRs, telehealth and new processes for care delivery
  • Radical alterations in the healthcare system such as value-based care and pay for performance
  • Lack of alignment between caregivers’ values and the reconfigured healthcare system
  • Scrutinized practice patterns to track compliance and monitor variations in management
Even millennials, residents and medical students show signs of burnout. And monetary incentives to prevent or remedy burnout haven’t worked. A study from 2019 estimates that physician turnover and reduced productivity, among other burnout-related factors, cost the healthcare industry an estimated  $4.6 billion per year. Now is the time for healthcare organizations to be focused on finding new ways to support physicians. 
An Initial Step to Ease Burnout
The good news is that many strategies are currently being implemented by healthcare organizations including exercise classes, relaxation techniques and increased access to mental health services. Not all of these are proving effective however, especially in the face of COVID-19.
One important step healthcare organizations must take now, is to recognize how the population health data analytics and dashboards used by healthcare leaders to track physician compliance and monitor practice variations are actually worsening burnout. These metrics have become synonymous to big-brother monitoring or parent-over-the-shoulder surveillance for our clinicians. As a population health management provider, HealthEC recommends the following steps to make analytics more physician friendly and thereby relieve one fear factor for our nation’s frontline providers.
Messaging must be Physician Friendly
Healthcare executives should be as transparent as possible and reconfigure data-driven insights as informational, not instructional, or onerous. Examples of physician-friendly messaging include: 
Dashboards: Including current state of the organization’s progress towards the goals set for each key metric with the physicians contribution towards achieving this metric.
Work Flow Guidance: Reports should provide the tasks/interventions necessary for achieving the goal for the metrics that are influenced by care decisions; example how many and which patients should be counseled to get their wellness screening completed
Detailing Variations in Care Management: Educate providers that standardizing care is an important aspect of value-based contracts and pay-for-performance programs. Comparing outcomes and costs among the providers peer group, impacted by care decisions, that if taken would meet, for example, the Aim of “Triple Aim”
Key Takeaway: Word choice and tone are equally important as the subject of the message.
Interested in learning more about how HealthEC’s population health management platform can help?

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