Physician Burnout: Are Electronic Medical Records the Culprit?

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September 08, 2017

Physician Burnout: Are Electronic Medical Records the Culprit?
In a recent study by Medscape, physician burnout in 2017 clocked in at 51%, up from 40% in 2013.

Although not equal, there was a fairly even spread of dissatisfaction and burnout among all fields and specialties. What is causing this massive increase in medical fatigue? The ennui of bureaucratic tasks reminiscent of a "cog in the wheel" that dissuades a lot of physicians is a glaring culprit. In addition to administrative tasks, however, long, tenuous hours and emotionally vacant mindsets have physicians across the country feeling an increasing unhappiness in the work place compared to time spent outside the clinic. But with administrative tasks tacked at the top of why physicians dislike the job, could the system be to blame? Are electronic medical records (EMR), technology meant to make physician life easier, actually hindering their work and negatively impacting their health?

While they may not be the direct cause of the pandemic, electronic medical records are certainly a large component of the problem. These once functional, omnipresent tools have been left behind by advanced technology and advanced needs. Electronic medical records should provide fluid, efficient care at the benefit of the patient, with transferable data that preemptively acknowledges tasks to optimally standardized care and improve the quality of clinics using the process. Unfortunately, this systematic "one size fits all" functionality, though possessing clear benefits, has become a debilitating obstacle to patient care.

At the risk of standardized methods, EMRs sacrifice the humanity in the exam room. Doctors cannot give patients the face-to-face contact so critical in a treatment setting. Instead, they employ endless questions, taps, and clicks on a computer screen that absorbs most of their attention when with a patient. The rigid methodology straying from the casual norms of the past pile stress on physicians' shoulders. They are inundated with files and charts and documents to fill out. Never mind just consuming valuable doctor-patient time. After a ten-hour shift, many physicians-after only a brief stint away from the clinical setting-later return to finish the paperwork. Necessitated overtime takes a slow, devastating toll on a physician's cognitive, physical, and emotional state. Forced to follow the despotic system, exhausted physicians may not even possess the wherewithal for small talk or patient niceties anymore.

One issue with EMRs is glaringly obvious: they are outdated. Somehow, as society benefited from technological leaps and bounds, this hapless system did not. Included with their other responsibilities, doctors are expected to peruse, document, and fumble through patient records failing to keep up with modern needs. When it comes to revamping this technology, doctors will need to play an active role in voicing the desired appropriate improvements.

For example, technology already implemented through iPhones, iPads, and other devices can be advantageous to amending EMRs. One such benefit would be voice recognition capability. This would provide an invaluable service to physicians. Devices should also utilize a sophisticated search engine type of process or other method to better organize EMRs for optimal physician retrieval. Even having an assistant for each physician to take care of these necessary steps would be a huge step in alleviating this significant cause behind physician burnout.

Emergency medical records are a vital asset to the healthcare system, but outdated processes and overwhelming paperwork indicts EMRs as a major cause behind physician burnout. Fortunately, this dismal pattern does not have to continue into the future. If doctors air their concerns and emergency medical records undergo a serious revamping, administrative tasks will not excessively consume valuable personal time or indispensable physician-to-patient time. It is time to address physician burnout in our health care system, and starting with emergency medical records can bring about much-needed change for a more prosperous, communicative, and humane future in the clinical setting.

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