Curating Information to Reduce Physician Burnout
By Nele Jessel, MD
Nele Jessel, MD is chief medical officer of Athenahealth of Watertown, MA.
No one in healthcare would dispute that it’s an enormous job to manage and distill all the patient data and clinical notes that are available with modern-day technology. Of course, technology has delivered many innovations and improvements to both the physician and patient experience. Yet sometimes even the most well-intentioned technology tools end up creating more challenges, with the unintended consequence of greater administrative burden, leading to provider dissatisfaction and burnout. I don’t know of any physicians who wanted to devote their career to the practice of medicine and are happy that they instead find themselves spending much of their time on administrative tasks.
A decade ago, my frustration with EHR technology – which made my life harder, not smarter – inspired me to open my own practice with the aim of using technology to automate workflows wherever possible. My goal was to spend more time with my patients and practice old-fashioned medicine in a high-tech setting. Over the past several years, my passion for the use of technology to drive advancements in healthcare and patient access, while facilitating the physician-patient relationship, led me deeper into the technology realm, resulting in my recent transition to Athenahealth, where I was once a client.
At Athenahealth, we fielded a survey in late 2020 to a broad sampling of physicians about technological challenges and physician wellbeing. More than half of the physicians surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that technology supports their ability to deliver high-quality care to patients. However, the physicians also said the more they feel information overload (i.e., poorly curated information), the more it causes them stress in day-to-day practice, and the more often they feel burned out.
The irony here is obvious. We need technology to address physician burnout that is caused by technology. From the physician responses, it’s clear that the legacy technology to help with this issue has some room to grow.
Additionally, EHR technology has sharpened the focus on provider documentation, and therefore electronic notes can be voluminous compared to paper notes. With nonsensical coding and billing requirements to count the number of bullets in sections of the documentation, a rampant use of copy and paste has resulted in bloated notes. New coding guidelines for 2021 have shifted the focus away from bullet points to managing the illness and/or making medical decisions. It remains to be seen whether this change will translate into shorter and more succinct notes that capture all the relevant clinical information and tell the patient’s story without any extraneous information.
With so much patient data available, managing the information and distilling it into exactly what is necessary to make decisions is a job unto itself. These burdensome administrative tasks are a serious problem when they take a physician’s focus away from direct patient care.
Practices looking to help with information overload should identify technologies that not only capture and store information, but also curate and translate data back into clinically meaningful terms. The increasing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning has the potential to transform how physicians work and interact with their patients.
For example, voice and ambient solutions integrated into the EHR enable automated messaging and speech-enabled applications that offer human-like interactions designed to help clinicians quickly locate key patient information and execute clinical tasks like navigating the exam and entering orders. Implementing the right technologies can help curate both the quantity and quality of information that a clinician must process, as well as minimize the manual effort required to integrate information from multiple sources.
We can do better for physicians to get the quality information they need for superior patient care.