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Healthcare provider burnout is a serious problem having negative consequences for the providers, patients, and the entire healthcare system. Burnouts are accompanied by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. According to a 2023 survey by the American Medical Association, 63% of physicians reported experiencing symptoms of burnout. A similar study published in the journal JAMA found 56% of nurses reported experiencing symptoms of burnout.

There are a number of causes of healthcare provider burnout. Excessive workload with providers often working long hours and seeing a high volume of patients. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed. A cardiologist in a webinar I attended this week said physicians are confronted with 27 hours of work to be completed in 24 hours.

Another major contributor is administrative burdens. Healthcare providers spend a significant amount of time on administrative tasks such as charting, writing notes, and billing. These activities take away from time which could be spent on patient care. Healthcare providers often have little control over their schedules and workloads. This can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness.

There are also more personal factors including emotional demands of the job. Healthcare providers often deal with difficult situations and challenging patients which can be emotionally taxing. Providers often have difficulty maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This can lead to stress and burnout.

The consequences of healthcare provider burnout are significant. Burnout can lead to healthcare providers making mistakes and providing lower quality care to patients and can be associated with an increased risk of medical errors. Burnout can lead to healthcare providers being less compassionate and empathetic with patients. This can lead to patient dissatisfaction. These consequences can be a major cause of healthcare provider turnover which in turn can lead to shortages of healthcare providers and make it difficult for patients to access care.

There are a number of things that can be done to address healthcare provider burnout. Healthcare organizations need to find ways to reduce the workloads of their providers. This can involve hiring more staff and delegating tasks to other healthcare professionals. In my opinion, the most important thing healthcare organizations can do is streamline processes and reduce administrative burdens. This may involve using electronic health records (EHRs) more effectively or automating tasks. More on this in a minute. Organizations should look at how to give providers more control over their schedules and workloads. Providers are humans like patients and organizations need to provide support for their providers to help them manage stress and burnout. This may involve providing access to counseling services, wellness programs, or support groups. Healthcare organizations should also promote work-life balance for their providers. This may involve offering flexible work arrangements or providing childcare assistance.

Healthcare provider burnout is a complex problem with no quick and easy solutions. However, by taking steps to address the root causes of burnout, healthcare organizations can help to protect their providers and patients. I have always advocated going for the low hanging fruit. In the case of burnout, the first target I would go after is physician notes and updating EHRs.

Physician notes is an essential part of a doctor’s job. Physician notes provide a record of the patient’s care, which can be used by other healthcare providers to coordinate the patient’s care and to ensure that the patient is receiving the best possible care. However, doctors spend a significant amount of time writing physician notes. A 2019 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found physicians spend an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds per patient encounter using electronic health records (EHRs), with chart review (33%), documentation (24%), and ordering (17%) accounting for most of the time. Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016, found physicians spend an average of 49.2% of their time doing paperwork, including writing physician notes.

The amount of time doctors spend writing physician notes varies depending on a number of factors, including the complexity of the patient’s case, the specialty of the physician, and the type of EHR system the doctor is using, but it is clear doctors spend a significant amount of time writing physician notes, and this can take away from the time they have to spend with their patients and their families. This area is a growing concern, but fortunately there are a number of initiatives underway to reduce the amount of time doctors spend on documentation.

All of the major information technology providers are rushing to deploy AI in everything they offer. Numerous small companies are laser focused on the opportunity. This week I watched a podcast interview of Shiv Rao, MD, cardiologist, CEO, and Co-Founder of Pittsburgh, PA-based abridge. Abridge develops AI solutions for the healthcare industry. Their solutions are used to structure and summarize medical conversations, which can help to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery.

Abridge uses a smartphone in the examination room to capture the conversation as it happens, so clinicians spend more time with patients, rather than spending additional time dictating the details after the conversation. The abridge AI-generated notes help clinicians systematically capture the details of the patient story. No more struggling to recall the facts. Abridge uses AI to create the physician notes and creates a coded version of the notes which can automatically be imported to the EHR. The Abridge software also sends patients after-visit summaries with actionable care plans and intelligent reminders.

Burnout is a big problem and solving it is an urgent challenge. Fortunately, AI software is ready for the task. Abridge is just one example of many solutions coming into the healthcare market. I recommend moving quickly to select a software solution and start a trial with one provider or department. After some fine tuning roll it out as quickly as possible to all providers.

Read more about healthcare technology in layperson terms in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.