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Is Data Overwhelm Causing Healthcare Provider Burnout?

Posted by Lawrence Kerr on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 @ 03:50 PM

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You don't have to be a social scientist to be aware of the trends around medicine, data, and how this onslaught affects us as medical providers:

  • Up to half of healthcare providers are burned out
  • Providers spend increasing amounts of time on paperwork and EHRs, despairing the promise of "time-saving technologies."
  • Finding and managing patient health information is a huge time burden for medical providers.

A recent article by pediatrician Dr. David Denton summarized the ways that technologies like EHRs gather a lot of data but make it difficult to sort through the data that matters. For instance, EHRs often make it more difficult to access the data we need by:

  • Including things that were never done, like answers to questions about exercise-induced chest pain for a 2-month old or a physical exam for a patient with a splinter.
  • Using language or codes that are so unnatural, they're almost impossible to understand or obscure the real problem. 
  • There is usually no logical sorting or prioritization of the data so it can take hours to figure out the real problem.
  • They don't allow collaboration (e.g., 100-page printouts of EHRs are commonly sent through the mail) so collaboration is usually interruptive of patient care (as with phone tag among providers.)

As Dr. Denton said, "I am busier because of these things, but not a better doctor."

Another provider, Dr. Pauline Chen, confirms, "A significant proportion of doctors feel trapped, thwarted by the limited time they are allowed to spend with patients, stymied by the ever-changing rules set by insurers and other payers on what they can prescribe or offer as treatment and frustrated by the fact that any gains in efficiency offered by electronic medical records are so soon offset by numerous, newly devised administrative tasks that must also be completed on the computer."

So is there anything that medical providers can do to protect themselves and their patients from this data onslaught? Actually, there is. Although we don't always have the choice of what EHR we use, or what interoperability issues exist, we can opt into technologies that make it easier to work, teach, and collaborate in the ways we want to. Ironically, adding additional tools can actually help you decrease the amount of time you spend fighting with technology. So if you're considering a tool to support telemedicine, health data, or medical collaboration, here are some key things to look for to help you manage -- not worsen -- the data deluge:

  • Let the humans do the thinking. With EHRs, the computer is what sorts the information. With a collaboration tool like iClickCare, all the information is readily available and chronologically organized, but it is a real, human, medical provider who indicates what needs your attention and what data you really need. 
  • Look for systems that allow natural language. The idea of EHRs is that everything is standardized and codified. So much so, in fact, that pretty soon all of the meaning of the words is lost in the abbreviations and standardizations. We think that collaboration tools are usually better when they allow providers to talk and write in the ways they think -- which is a language that real people can understand.  
  • Demand a solution that doesn't interrupt you. Medical ccollaboration is important, but if collaboration opportunities are constantly interrupting you -- through phone tag or video conferences -- it will be one more source of burnout. So look for solutions that let you collaborate and respond on your schedule (like with "store and forward telemedicine").
  • Prioritize a good user interface. EHRs are usually impossible to use. With all of the effortless and beautiful technology that exists, this kind of sturggle is completely unnecessary.  
  • Depend on photos and videos. While some EHRs allow pictures and videos to be input, most don't. Look for a tool that let's you easily, and HIPAA-securely, upload videos and pictures so that they can be used for collaboration, recollection, and teaching cases. 

For a broader overview of telemedicine options, click here.

Tags: medical collaboration, provider burnout, EHR, EMR

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