Etienne Boshoff, Managing Director of EHR Consultancy MediConfig

These days, technology plays a vital role in improving the quality of life, impacting various sectors, including healthcare. Electronic Health Records (EHR) have revolutionized the way medical professionals access and manage patient data, leading to streamlined processes, improved patient care, and increased cost-efficiency. However, with the rapid adoption of EHR, several challenges have arisen, including physician burnout associated with EHR systems. In this article, we will explore a comprehensive eight-step strategy to mitigate physician burnout caused by EHR, its potential impact on the healthcare industry, and its implications on society as a whole.

The evolution, significance, and benefits of EHR

The introduction of EHR systems has marked a significant milestone in the way medical professionals manage and share patient information. Before the digital era, healthcare providers relied on paper-based records, which often led to inefficiencies and errors in managing and transferring patient data. With EHR in place, healthcare professionals can now exchange crucial patient data electronically, improving communication, reducing errors, and enhancing the overall quality of care.

Healthcare professionals now have quick access to patients’ medical histories, test results, and medications, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding treatments and medications. They can also collaborate and communicate with their peers and patients efficiently and securely using EHR. There is also evidence of improved patient safety as electronic prescription and allergy tracking features in EHR systems can prevent errors and adverse events. 

Despite these benefits, EHR systems have also introduced challenges and unintended consequences, especially for healthcare providers. Chief among these challenges is physician burnout associated with EHR use.

The dark side of EHR: physician burnout

While EHR systems have undoubtedly brought improvements to various aspects of healthcare, they have also introduced a significant burden on physicians. The ever-increasing workload and stress associated with EHR systems have left many physicians feeling overwhelmed. Can we link this directly to EHR? Yes, studies repeatedly show that physicians identify EHRs as the single most important stressor in patient care, and nearly 75% with burnout symptoms identify it as the cause. 

Burnout is defined as “a psychological syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.” Numerous reports highlight the challenges posed by the volume of documentation and administrative tasks that physicians are required to handle. 

According to a study, physicians are now tasked not only with entering diagnoses, orders, and visit notes but also with managing additional administrative data that is often perceived to have little clinical value. A related study showed that clinicians felt that most of the EHR clerical tasks completed by them do not require a trained physician.  

Concerningly, a separate study revealed that clinicians may require up to an additional two hours of electronic data entry for every hour of direct patient interaction. Furthermore, in certain instances, clinic schedules are intentionally shortened and appointments are canceled to ensure adequate time.

As an Oracle Health EHR consultant and a huge supporter of the technology, we at MediConfig wish to do all we can to address this challenge, and therefore propose an eight-step strategy to mitigate physician burnout caused by EHR. Our plan aims to help healthcare organizations create a more balanced work environment, ultimately improving the well-being of healthcare professionals.

An Eight-Step Plan to Alleviate EHR-Driven Physician Burnout

1. EHR optimization and efficiency training: Healthcare organizations should invest in comprehensive training programs that cover EHR best practices and time-saving techniques, empowering clinicians to work more efficiently with EHR systems. This will help physicians navigate the complexities of EHR systems with ease and reduce burnout. As an example, the training could include tips for using shortcuts, templates, and voice recognition software.

2. Streamlining documentation requirements: Organisations should evaluate their documentation requirements and eliminate any unnecessary or redundant elements. This will reduce the physician’s burden of entering excessive data into EHR systems and allow them to focus on essential patient care tasks.

3. Hire additional staff to take over administrative work: With the increasing demand for patient care, physicians are often required to complete administrative tasks that can be delegated to other staff members. Healthcare organizations should consider hiring additional administrative support staff to handle these non-clinical tasks, freeing up more time for physicians.

4. Utilise scribes or dictation tools: To reduce the burden of EHR documentation, providers can use medical scribes or dictation tools to assist in completing patient records, freeing up time for clinical caregiving. Oracle Health recently announced that it would be introducing voice commands to its EHR to enable clinicians to verbalize what they need, such as bringing up a patient’s test results, ordering medication, or booking future clinic visits 

5. Promote evidence-based interventions: Encouraging wellness initiatives, such as mindfulness programs, physical exercise, and stress management workshops, can be integrated into a broader strategy to address and prevent physician burnout.

6. Improve interoperability: Resolving interoperability issues is crucial to reducing physician burnout. Healthcare organizations should advocate for the development and implementation of standards that would facilitate seamless data exchange between different EHR systems.

7. Prioritise user-centered design: When implementing or updating EHR systems, the healthcare organization’s implementation team should include end-users, such as physicians and nurses, in the design process to ensure an intuitive and user-friendly interface.

8. Consider EHR alternatives: In extreme cases, where physician burnout caused by EHR is severe and unresponsive to other interventions, healthcare organizations may need to consider alternative solutions, such as outsourcing the documentation process or switching to a different EHR platform. Oracle Health Millennium EHR would be a great solution because it prioritizes user-centered design and interoperability.

The potential impact of physician burnout on healthcare

Physician burnout not only affects individual physicians but also has significant implications for the healthcare industry as a whole. Burnout can lead to a decrease in the quality of care, an increase in medical errors, and ultimately impact patient safety. Moreover, physician burnout causes high turnover rates and early retirement among physicians, leading to a shortage of qualified healthcare professionals.

While EHR systems have brought numerous benefits to the healthcare industry, it is crucial to address and mitigate the challenges associated with their use, particularly physician burnout. By implementing a comprehensive eight-step strategy that addresses issues such as training, interoperability, and user-centered design, healthcare organizations can create a more balanced work environment for physicians and ultimately improve patient care. It is essential to continue researching and addressing these challenges to ensure that EHR systems continue to positively impact the healthcare industry and society as a whole and we’ll be there to support them.

About Etienne Boshoff 

Etienne Boshoff is the Managing Director and Founder of MediConfig. He worked within Cerner for 17 years as a Solution and Integration Architect, building and reconfiguring the software, helping healthcare providers to get the best possible experience. MediConfig was founded in 2023 and is a Oracle Health EHR consultancy supporting the IT teams of healthcare organizations across the UK and US.