Clinicians have one of the toughest jobs, constantly serving an ever-increasing patient population with complex conditions and navigating a regulatory landscape determined to litigate toward the idea of clinical perfection, often forced to use technology designed for an era long past. Put it all together, and you’ve got a recipe for unbelievable pressure and stress.
I remember receiving once a call from a physician at 2 a.m. who was desperately attempting to access the electronic health record from home to complete her patient charts. I asked why this had to be done so late, and her response was jarring: “Because there’s no other time during the day to get them done,” she said.
Clinician burnout continues to persist as a problem in the industry. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Dr. Atul Gawande discussed how doctors have grown to “actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.” Meanwhile, study after study has correlated technology use and burnout in the industry.
This can’t continue to be the norm for clinicians’ daily routines.
CIOs Can Work with Vendors to Improve Workflow
One variable of the equation hospital CIOs can control in this scenario is the ability to smooth out the clinical tool landscape for our respective healthcare delivery entities. However, IT leaders must be willing to go out and engage clinicians in their environment via rounding and true constructive dialogue.
We also need to work with our vendors, engaging them in sometimes difficult conversations and providing them with meaningful feedback so they, in turn, can make product enhancements that truly benefit our clinicians and patients.
Engage Clinicians with Empathy and Support
Technology leaders need to recognize the toll IT regulations take on already overwhelmed clinicians. Ultimately, documentation requirements fall on the shoulders of physicians already tasked with patient care. Empathy and collaboration must be top of mind for CIOs to support overburdened colleagues.
A few years ago, I engaged a state entity while trying to achieve meaningful use health IT mandates required for federal reimbursement of EHR implementation. One of the requirements was to stand up an interface connecting to the state for syndromic surveillance purposes. Upon reaching out to the state to get the ball rolling, I received a reply that, rather than working with us to connect, the state would grant our organization a waiver because the only individual on its end with experience completing the task had recently retired; the state could not fulfill the request until the following year.
The response was disheartening. Our clinicians worked hard to meet all the requirements, but at the end of the day I had to go back and tell them that their efforts would not be utilized by the state for another year. In the face of a constantly evolving IT landscape, working with clinicians sometimes means offering technical expertise and guidance, but often also entails providing reassurance in the face of setbacks.
Regulation Forges Path Toward EHR Efficiency
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in November unveiled a draft strategy to reduce burdens on clinicians related to the use of health IT. In a statement associated with the release of the strategy, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that addressing such challenges will help to “pave the way for value-based transformation.”
IT leaders will be key to ensuring the strategy’s goals of improved workflow and more efficient care are met. Clinician burnout is a major issue, one that must be addressed at both organizational and national levels. Clinicians are in need of help. We must band together to help them maintain the joy of medicine.