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Can Digital Health Improve Physician Burnout Problem?

June 30, 2019, Wang Hui, a Chinese ophthalmologist at Beijing Tongren Hospital, suffered a cardiac arrest after working for 6 days with a fever and sadly passed away. Wang Hui was named as one of China’s Top Ten Resident Doctors and from all accounts was a fantastic physician. This, however, was not the first case in China of ‘sudden deaths in physicians’ as the Chinese medical industry saw a sudden rise in these cases between 2008-2015 largely as a result of heavy workload. In the same year, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association deemed physician burnout as a public health crisis after a study carried out found that 78% of physicians in the United States had experienced some symptoms of professional burnout, with some even experiencing depression as a result. “We believe that physician burnout is a public health crisis, an assessment that has been echoed by others in both major medical journals and the lay press”.


But what is ‘physician burnout’? The World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised physician burnout this year classifying it as; a syndrome conceptualised as resulting in chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and can be categorized into three dimensions:


  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

  3. Reduces professional efficacy.


It is probably right to say that we have all experienced some kind of burnout before, most of us in a professional capacity, however in the medical world burnout has the propensity to put patient care at risk and could be detrimental to medical workforce retention. In this blog we will look to better understand the impact that burnout has on medical physicians and what place, if any, digital health technologies have in fighting this global issue.



The Cause of the Problem

As the speed of innovation increases and new, innovative tech is being discovered, consumer expectations grow bigger and bigger and this is no different in healthcare. Medscape National Physician Burnout 2020 Report highlighted that whilst the United States saw a decrease in % of physicians that state they are burnt out in 2020, the numbers show that nearly half of the 15,000 physicians asked said they had experienced professional burnout. If this is to be the case, there are roughly 600,000 United States physicians that have experienced physician burnout at one time - those numbers are alarming!


The Medscape report, looking at the primary causes of physician burnout found that over half of the United States physicians surveyed said ‘Too many bureaucratic tasks (e.g. charting, paperwork)’ followed by ‘Spending too many hours at work’ & ‘Increased computerization of practice (EHRs)’ were the major factors pushing physicians to experience such burnout, and of those surveyed, women recorded consistently higher rates of burnout than men. Sameer Bhat of eClinicalWorks in a conversation with HealthcareITNews said; “Although there is no one particular cause that leads to physician burnout, the rapid increase in the sophistication of medical technology and the rise of convoluted EHR systems can leave physicians with less time interacting with patients and more time behind a computer screen”.


Just as important as the causes of burnout is the impact it has. The major impact we see burnout having is with the quality of care patients are receiving and with that jeopardizing patient safety. “The problem with physician burnout is that it leads to worse quality care”. As well as affecting the delivery of care to the patient, physician burnout directly impacts the physician's own health and wellness. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlighted concerns among physicians that met the criteria with over 60% experiencing problems with sleep and 5% having a dependence with alcohol which raises concerns about the delivery of care to patients.


The Impact on Physicians

As the speed of innovation increases and new, innovative tech is being discovered, consumer expectations grow bigger and bigger and this is no different in healthcare. Medscape National Physician Burnout 2020 Report highlighted that whilst the United States saw a decrease in % of physicians that state they are burnt out in 2020, the numbers show that nearly half of the 15,000 physicians asked said they had experienced professional burnout. If this is to be the case, there are roughly 600,000 United States physicians that have experienced physician burnout at one time - those numbers are alarming!


The Medscape report, looking at the primary causes of physician burnout found that over half of the United States physicians surveyed said ‘Too many bureaucratic tasks (e.g. charting, paperwork)’ followed by ‘Spending too many hours at work’ & ‘Increased computerization of practice (EHRs)’ were the major factors pushing physicians to experience such burnout, and of those surveyed, women recorded consistently higher rates of burnout than men. Sameer Bhat of eClinicalWorks in a conversation with HealthcareITNews said; “Although there is no one particular cause that leads to physician burnout, the rapid increase in the sophistication of medical technology and the rise of convoluted EHR systems can leave physicians with less time interacting with patients and more time behind a computer screen”.


Just as important as the causes of burnout is the impact it has. The major impact we see burnout having is with the quality of care patients are receiving and with that jeopardizing patient safety. “The problem with physician burnout is that it leads to worse quality care”. As well as affecting the delivery of care to the patient, physician burnout directly impacts the physician's own health and wellness. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlighted concerns among physicians that met the criteria with over 60% experiencing problems with sleep and 5% having a dependence with alcohol which raises concerns about the delivery of care to patients.

Physician Burnout & Digital Health


The Focus of Digital Health

The global rate of burnout in physicians is steadily climbing and we are now seeing the similarity in the causes of burnout throughout the globe. Healthcare professionals in the UK, France and Spain, for example, all stated ‘bureaucratic tasks’ as the biggest issue contributing to burnout, followed by ‘long working days’. Digital health technology, in theory, is designed to allow healthcare practitioners more time to spend with their patients and less time spent completing these bureaucratic tasks. Increasingly, however, we are seeing the focus of digital health platforms lean towards empowering the patient, neglecting the experience for the caregiver. A patient that has better control over their health and is taking an active role in their health is an empowered patient, and while the evidence shows us that an empowered patient improves health outcomes that does not automatically result in an empowered physician. With a lack of regulations, education and guidance in many cases to help support digital health adoption, many healthcare professionals are cautious, even reluctant to adopt these new technologies as they feel the rug has been pulled from underneath them. “Not only has the sheer amount of information grown, but it has also become crucial to know and be able to use even the latest technologies from apps and telemedicine to health sensors and portable diagnostic devices”. Digital health providers have the opportunity to eradicate issues of physician burnout by ensuring the solutions they build meet their needs of the physician as well as the patient - ultimately replacing the rug.


A Win-Win

In tackling this global issue, providers must work towards offering both a better patient experience as well as a better physician experience. Empowering physicians allows them to spend more time on their primary responsibilities and less time on tasks that offer their patients no benefit. Digital solutions should avoid inflicting physicians with the extra workload, and ultimately should support in improving their job satisfaction. Having an empowered physician who enjoys the work they do will greatly reduce physician burnout and as a result, will improve patient health outcomes. A win-win.



References




Recent Articles


Forbes:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2020/01/09/whats-the-economic-cost-of-physician-burnout/#8e4025a2d77d


Business Insider:

https://www.businessinsider.com/doctor-burnout-reaches-all-time-high-2019-8?r=US&IR=T


Wall Street Journal:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/physician-burnout-widespread-especially-among-those-midcareer-report-says-11579086008


Financial Times:

https://www.ft.com/content/72349302-ddfa-11e9-b8e0-026e07cbe5b4



Ryan Owens

Marketing

voscuris.com


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