Physician burnout linked to stress caused by using electronic health records

A new survey warned that electronic health records (EHR) might be causing serious levels of stress for health care providers. Indeed, the use of these health information technologies could possibly be responsible for job burnout in the sector.

Technology is just one of the many factors that are associated with burnout in health care providers. Whatever the origin of the stress, burned-out personnel are prone to making more mistakes and performing unneeded tests.

Researchers with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) conducted a survey of local health care providers in 2017. The biennial study evaluated the use of health information systems, such as EHR tech. For their new survey, the researchers asked participants about stress related to health information systems. They placed particular emphasis on stress connected to EHR.

Ninety-one percent of the 1,800 participants confirmed that they used EHRs. Furthermore, 70 percent showed at least one measure of stress associated with the use of those systems.

Participants complained that EHRs were frustrating to use and took up a good chunk of their time at home. They also complained that they didn’t have enough time to perform proper documentation at their workplace. (Related: Four of the best adaptogens that help you beat stress.)

Electronic health resource systems are stressing out primary care specialists

The RIDOH researchers identified primary care providers as the most susceptible to EHR-related stress. More than a third of the primary care providers reported all three measures of stress.

General internists, family medicine physicians, and pediatricians were the specialists who reported all three measures of stress – frustrating EHR interface, sacrificing time at home to do the electronic paperwork, and no time for performing documentation during work. Many dermatologists also reported similar levels of stress.

On the other end of the spectrum, anesthesiologists, hospital medicine specialists, and radiologists were much less prone to developing stress over health information technology.

The results for job burnout told a somewhat different story. Family medicine physicians and dermatologists were the most common victims.

However, hospital medicine providers turned out to be the third biggest group of burnout victims despite reporting fewer stress related to EHR. Researchers theorize that the high rate of burnout stemmed from non-EHR causes.

“To me, it’s a signal to health care organizations that if they’re going to ‘fix’ burnout, one solution is not going to work for all physicians in their organization,” remarked RIDOH researcher Rebekah Gardner, the head of the new study. “They need to look at the physicians by specialty and make sure that if they are looking for a technology-related solution, then that’s really the problem in their group.”

Reducing unhealthy levels of stress caused by health information systems

Gardner offered a number of recommendations to reduce the EHR-related stress that plagues health care providers. First, administrators could shorten the relevant electronic documentation so that it takes less time and energy to complete. Admins could also put up policies that strongly dissuade their subordinates from opening emails related to work or accessing the EHR system outside of work.

Meanwhile, EHR developers could improve the user interface of their programs. However, the researchers were unable to figure out if any of the three EHR systems used in New Jersey was linked to higher levels of burnout.

Hospitals could also hire medical scribes to take over the task of documentation. However, while this practice did reduce the rate of burnouts in earlier studies, the RIDOH study found no correlation between it and reduction of ERH-related stress.

Gardner and her fellow authors believed that there were EHR tasks that the health care provider could not turn over to a medical scribe. Tasks like managing inboxes are still the stressful purview of the provider.

Sources include:

comments powered by Disqus