Using Digital Tools to Mitigate Physician Burnout

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By Jason Sugar, Lead Gastroenterologist at ModMed®

It used to be that most doctors experienced some level of “physician burnout,” the condition of emotional exhaustion, diminished enjoyment in professional tasks, and/or negative feelings or cynicism about work. It’s not great for physicians, and it’s not great for patient care either. 

Then the pandemic happened. 

The challenges of COVID-19 for physicians and their staff have only exacerbated burnout. It has created its own stressors and made existing ones worse, according to a recent analysis.1 Although the causes can be many, the American Medical Association has blamed too many time-consuming administrative tasks as one driver of physician burnout.2

All too often, physicians are on a daily sprint of 15-minute patient appointments, trying to keep pace with ever-changing billing codes, dealing with complex, paper-based processes like prior authorization — all while using old-school methods like faxing to engage patients and payers. This digital downgrade can mean that some doctors spend more time documenting a patient’s visit than actually engaging with that patient.  

What Are Some Solutions? 

Physicians and practices should look to technology to help implement the right processes and automate tasks. Without efficient technology, doctors and staff can spend more time than they otherwise would on scheduling, insurance reimbursement, and other mundane tasks. Technological innovations — which streamline workflows in many other professions — can create bigger barriers for those physicians using generic or templated EHRs.

It’s important that software is designed with a particular specialty’s needs in mind for optimal performance. For me, the EHR has to be designed with gastroenterologist-specific content and workflows so that I can more quickly use things like an integrated ASC module with nursing and anesthesia notes; auto-generated recalls for procedures and office visits; and integration with GIQUIC specialty-specific benchmarking registry.

A practice software system should remember physician preferences and adapt to those workflows. I can also improve practice efficiencies with reduced clinical documentation, e-prescribing and electronic imaging.

Most of us went to medical school to take care of patients. It’s what we like to spend the majority of our time doing. Any software or system that can decrease the administrative burden can potentially lower the risk for physicians to experience burnout over time. 

Empowering Patients 

It’s well known that patients who are empowered to take an active role in managing their care are more likely to make smart healthcare decisions like attending regular appointments and screenings. The pandemic has made this more important than ever. 

Patient engagement tools have grown in popularity, and with good reason. What was perhaps born out of necessity from the realities of COVID-19 have become a welcome preference for most patients. The ability for patients to self-schedule, complete forms online, receive text reminders, and retrieve medical records has empowered patients. 

The consumerization of healthcare means patients are more responsible than ever for their care. Patient portals and mobile applications allow patients to access test results and physician instructions at all times and take an active role in ensuring key elements of their medical history and medication list are up to date. Not only does this help free up your time, but it can also reduce errors. Additionally, the use of patient appointment reminders via email and text helps reduce “no-shows.”

Deploying these tools can be a win-win for both patients and providers to have some of the administrative tasks become automated or removed all together.

Think Digital Integration

Look for a software provider that offers an all-in-one solution. When a company offers an electronic health record, practice management, billing and other software tools, they can work seamlessly together. Different technology from different vendors can decrease efficiency and force you and your staff to develop time-consuming “work-arounds.” Better to have the software work for you instead of the other way around. 

Again, the more efficient the technology in your practice, the more likely you are to create more time in the day which may alleviate burnout.

Hiring staff and colleagues for your practice can be all the more challenging during the pandemic. That’s another reason to put a greater emphasis on efficient technology to remove some of the burden that would otherwise pile up on fewer people. The right software systems can help keep things running more smoothly which will enable staff to keep a better pace. 

Aim For Better Work-Life Balance

No provider wants to spend all day in the practice and then face another two hours of administrative work in the evening. 

Blurring the line between professional and home life can add another stressor that is associated with burnout. In contrast, exercising, spending time with family and carving out time for relaxation are positive moves that can help a busy physician stave off burnout. 

In other words, self-care is important to prevent draining your mental, physical and emotional well-being in the face of potential burnout. As much as it remains your mission to provide the best patient care possible, practicing medicine without feeling any passion, joy or sense of purpose from burnout can adversely affect your health. 

Start With Recognition

The main thing is to just recognize you are experiencing symptoms of burnout early, more than anything else. And then take steps to deal with it. Speak to a colleague or someone you trust. Optimize your practice’s efficiency and reduce burdensome tasks as much as possible. 

There’s no magic bullet for physician burnout, but there are certainly tools and help available to minimize its effects and optimize your chances for getting back to what you’re passionate about, including your patients.

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33641118/
  2. https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/physician-health/ama-spurs-movement-fight-key-causes-physician-burnout?gclid=CjwKCAjwh5qLBhALEiwAioods5vC_EigpjXbJYVtjF7TcwRwVfdDQ88zsG9vWlLFq9gDZMUZU1Aw8hoC464QAvD_BwE 

About the Author

Dr. Jason Sugar is Chief Medical Officer at Washington Gastroenterology — one of the largest gastroenterology practices in the Northwest United States — and also the lead gastroenterologist with ModMed of Boca Raton, Florida. ModMed offers multiple solutions through its specialty-specific cloud platform. With their electronic health records (EHR) and practice management (PM) systems, and their revenue cycle management (RCM) services, their all-in-one solution empowers specialty medical practices to do their best work by providing clinical, financial and operational software solutions designed to enable better, more personalized patient care. For more information, visit www.modmed.com