Can Technology Help Prevent Physician Burnout?


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Being a clinician is rewarding but often challenging. The demands of providing care have also only increased during the pandemic.

In the last few years, clinicians have dealt with changing patient and policy needs. While also staying safe and providing quality care while often short-staffed and under pressure.

The preliminary data from the CMA’s National Physician Health Survey revealed that:

  • 59% of physicians indicated their mental health has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • With over 50% of physicians pointing to the increased workload and changing policies and processes as reasons for impacting their mental health

The Canadian Medical Association describes this as burnout and says that it presents one of the most “significant challenges facing the health care system.”

What is clinical burnout?

The Maslach Burnout Inventory Manual defines burnout as “a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment.”

Burnout can manifest itself in feelings of alienation, exhaustion, stress, and cynicism. Physically it can cause head and stomach aches and intestinal issues.

What causes burnout in healthcare professionals?

The CMA’s Physician Wellness Hub offers various resources and strategies for managing and preventing physician burnout, including self-care and personal strategies to promote good physical and mental health to help deal with stress and physician fatigue.

There are also many systemic causes of healthcare burnout, which go beyond individual clinician behaviour. These causes are things that healthcare organizations and institutions need to help with, not just individual doctors.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association’s (CMPA) guide to healthier physicians outlines the following as systemic causes of burnout:

  • A lack of social support and negative leadership behaviour
  • Not enough support for ‘second victim’ effects
  • Limited opportunities for collaboration
  • Lack of autonomy and control
  • Not enough time spent on meaningful or fulfilling work
  • Long hours, high patient volumes and generally excessive workloads
  • Changes to care delivery and work context due to new technologies
  • Inefficient processes such as increased admin and excessive physician data-entry

The reality is, that many systemic causes of burnout are related to technology. Or at least, they are related to the way technology is currently being used in clinical settings.

For example, a poorly designed or limited EMR can be the cause of considerable frustration and fatigue for clinicians. When a clinic gets busy you need the technology to be working with you, not against you.

This can be done by improving and extending EMR functionality, automating clinical workflows and by removing manual administration wherever possible.

The good news is better application of technology is something that can be done at the clinic level. This means that individual or groups of clinics can take action to prevent burnout, rather than being stuck implementing purely personal strategies for prevention or relying on institutional change.

All of this isn’t to say that better technology will solve clinical burnout on its own!

But technology, through more efficient EMR and workflow experiences, does offer a great opportunity to help solve many of the systemic issues that cause burnout among physicians and other clinicians.

What role can technology play in preventing physician burnout?

New technology can help prevent burnout in two main ways.

Firstly, by providing physicians and MOAs with the tools, they need to work smarter, not harder. It cannot be overstated how much poor EMR experiences and outdated or inefficient clinical workflows contribute to unnecessary stress for clinicians.

The second, and equally important, way in which new technology can help prevent physician fatigue and burnout, is by providing new tools and support for better clinician mental health.

In our blog, we’ll examine different solutions and strategies available for clinics.

Helping clinicians work smarter, not harder!

Technology, particularly new EMR features and third-party EMR integrations, can help by digitizing and streamlining many clinical workflows, including:

Let’s look at some examples of how integrating EMR apps can help reduce the systemic causes of physician burnout.

Let’s start with reducing administrative work and streamlining workflows.

In recent years, there has been an increase in third-party EMR apps that seek to solve administrative bottlenecks and improve clinical workflows.

These EMR integrations help:

  • Improve your EMR’s functionality
  • Automate administrative work
  • Digitize paper-based processes
  • Integrate all your clinical data seamlessly

Nobody likes to be overworked, trying to constantly keep up with phone calls and folders while patients ask questions and await appointments. 

For example, online booking apps and patient intake forms can automate much of the administrative workload in your clinic. Your patients can choose from available appointment slots and completed forms before their visit, with the data integrated directly with your EMR.

This can reduce the volume of phone calls your clinic receives, giving physicians and MOAs some space to take a breath and focus on delivering quality care.

The benefit of automating this process with an EMR app isn’t simply about the logical business case, although that certainly exists! It is also about how reducing the heavy call volumes will relieve work-related stress and anxiety amongst your clinicians.

The same can be said for many other clinical workflows. Everything from ePrescribing and transcription services to lab referrals and patient reminders can greatly reduce administrative strains on your clinic.

The submission and management of billing, something that has traditionally been an extremely time-consuming and stressful process, can now be optimized with the help of services such as DoctorCare.

The CMA cites ‘changes to care delivery and work context due to new technologies’ as a factor in physician burnout. Especially during the pandemic, it is easy to understand how these changes could have added more stress to clinicians.

For example, the pandemic led to a sudden need to provide more virtual care. However, this wasn’t necessarily easy for many clinics that did not already have reliable telehealth processes in place.

Almost all primary care clinics needed to rearrange their workflows and create new ways of working, but often this change wasn’t straightforward and often meant taking patient calls on personal devices, then transcribing data into their EMR manually.

But it didn’t have to be this way! Clinics that use OSCAR Pro or Profile EMR were able to take advantage of fast, flexible EMR integrations that supported the new telehealth reality with the minimum of fuss.

This EMR integration can also be proactive as new clinical dashboards and decision support apps have emerged.

For example, Khure Health is a free application that streamlines rare disease diagnosis by screening patients using artificial intelligence that’s based on the latest clinical guidelines and special input.

Being able to screen patients with the click of a button provides physicians with unprecedented support and allows for better care while reducing the number of repeat appointments, misdiagnoses and research required for rare disease patients.

Supporting better clinician mental health

The reality is MOA and physicians need to feel like they can ask for and get mental health support.

This is part of a long-term societal change in attitudes to how mental health is perceived and treated. Clinicians are important in spreading that message to the Canadian public, but this message shouldn’t get lost on healthcare professionals themselves. It is vital that physicians focus on themselves, not just their patients.

Thankfully, the changes to how mental health is perceived have helped encourage various innovations targeted at providing better access to mental health services.

For example, virtual therapy services are emerging in Canada. These services are available direct to the public in some cases. However, increasingly clinics are looking to partner with a specific virtual therapy provider to offer patients high-quality access to mental health support quickly.

The great thing about virtual therapy services is that they can support clinicians too! Focus Mental Wellness, understand the pressures on clinicians and encourage them to use the virtual therapy services they recommend to patients.

Final Thoughts on Physician Burnout

Physician burnout is a huge issue in the Canadian healthcare system, with recent CMA research showing it has increased during the pandemic. It is also clear that many of the causes of burnout are systemic and often related to technology and how it is currently used.

But new technology that focuses on creating better EMR experiences and streamlining clinical workflows can help prevent burnout in clinicians by reducing administrative workloads and stress.  

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