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Three Steps Your Practice Can Take to Mitigate Physician Burnout

By Travis Schneider

At the height of the COVID-19 Omicron wave that hit the United States during the winter of 2021 to 2022, three in five physicians reported experiencing symptoms of burnout. Physician burnout has consequences that not only are detrimental to providers but also negatively affect the patients they treat and the organizations that employ them. Physician burnout is associated with increased medical errors, which pose a serious threat to patient health and safety and to a practice’s reputation, profitability, and long-term viability.

Why Is Burnout So Dangerous?
Tebra surveyed more than 1,200 patients and asked them to share their perspectives on physician burnout. This included asking whether they would be concerned if their physicians displayed fatigue, exhaustion, or irritability—all signs of physician burnout.

According to the survey results, 88% of respondents would be worried; however, only 21% had noticed their physician displaying those symptoms. Considering the documented high burnout rates, this finding is alarming. It indicates that burnout is flying under the radar, making it all the more dangerous.

Physician burnout harms doctors and patients alike, and we must not underestimate its adverse effects.

In addition to the symptoms already noted, physicians experiencing burnout are more prone to drug and alcohol misuse, depression, and even suicide. Medical errors associated with burnout include errors in judgment, wrong diagnoses, and technical mistakes.

According to data from 2019, physician burnout costs the US health care system an estimated $4.6 billion annually. Considering today’s all-time high burnout rate, this number is likely even higher now.

How a Complete Operating System Can Help Combat Physician Burnout
To mitigate burnout in your practice, you must look closely at any factors that contribute to the problem. Unfortunately, one of these could be your EHR system.

Nearly 60% of doctors agree that EHRs need a complete overhaul. The regulatory requirements placed upon physicians, from quality measure reporting to HIPAA compliance, all contribute to a heavy workload, and a subpar EHR exacerbates the problem.

Many practices run fragmented EHR systems with different applications for different tasks. Each separate system a physician must access in a given workflow makes that workflow more difficult and time-consuming, adding to physician (and administrator) stress. While switching systems can seem like even more work, adopting an all-in-one platform that can manage front- and back-end operations will quickly streamline and simplify tasks, reduce stress, and save time for staff.

Action Step 1: Overhaul Your Practice’s EHR
An effective EHR system for a physician’s independent practice should include the following features:

• easy integration into existing billing and scheduling tools to reduce administrative burden;
• an intuitive, easy-to-learn dashboard to prevent frustration or mistakes;
• cloud-based storage so that physicians can access it anywhere; and
• flexible documentation tools to facilitate easy and quick note creation, script writing, and encounter coding.

In addition to these necessities, it’s also helpful to have the following:

• prebuilt templates;
• text shortcuts; and
• note duplication.

Remember that digital access is the future of health care and what patients want; 81% of adults are seeking increased access to their health information. Unfortunately, many digital tools and resources available to allow this kind of access do nothing to ease the clinical documentation burden on physicians.

Adopt a Team-Based Collaborative Approach
How is the support system structured in your practice? If you’re not already running a team-based care model, it’s time to make a change.

Consider this: In order to fulfill all the regulatory and documentation requirements and provide care for an average number of patients, physicians need 26.7 hours per day.

Action Step 2: Convert Your Practice to a Team-Based Care Model
Under the team-based care model, physicians can take advantage of the EHR to share patient medical information and records. Everyone benefits from this model as it allows patients to receive the highest quality of care by leveraging the knowledge and insight of different doctors and simultaneously reduces physician workload through shared administrative responsibilities.

Promoting Physician Self-Care
What is your practice’s culture when it comes to time off? Do you encourage your team of providers to get enough rest, downtime, and work-life balance, or do they tend to ignore their paid time off?

Nearly one-half of all physicians say they take three to four weeks off per year, and more than one-quarter say they only take one or two. In addition, self-employed physicians report taking less time than their externally employed peers do.

Action Step 3: Adopt a Practice Culture of Self-Care
Set a good example by prioritizing your own self-care, including rest, regular exercise, and following a nutritious diet. Connect with your friends, family, and community. Take time off and do what makes you happy, and encourage your team to do the same. Remind them to go home when their days are done.

Establish a gratitude practice (one that does not add extra work or stress) and regularly recognize your physicians and their accomplishments.

Burnout among doctors has always been a substantial problem and is significant to physicians seeking new practices or leaving health care entirely. Health care reform, technological advancements, and treatment options continually evolve and transform the health care landscape. As a result, it can be increasingly difficult for physicians to keep pace with the latest developments. Given these challenges, it is crucial to promote self-care and well-being among doctors. By prioritizing their own health, physicians can better serve their patients and provide the high-quality care they deserve.

The rewards of being a doctor are high, but so is the stress. If you want to continue to provide the best possible care to your patients, preserve your physicians’ health, and reduce the costs associated with burnout in your practice, take immediate action to mitigate burnout in both yourself and your team.

— Travis Schneider is cofounder and chief corporate development officer for Tebra, a leading cloud-based health care technology platform. In his role, he oversees mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnerships for the organization.